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0:43 AMChapter 3
3 Points of Confusion
“Back many decades ago, one of your kind was meant to die. I passed by the house and called the name, at this time also riding with my young son and my wife.” The Dullahan gave his partner a loving pat on the hand before continuing. “My son wasn’t completely headless, by which I mean he could take it off if he wished, but it remained upon his shoulders. He was a handsome young lad, worthy of affections. Our village was a bit more open with mortals at the time because we communicated through the Druids, who respected us in the old days.”
I’ve never heard much of the past. This is all news to me. It all seems so… different, Cuilliok thought as he sat at the table made of bones, leaning back in what he assumes is a mortal’s kind of chair. Nimue also looked intrigued and was leaning forward in interest, eyes open wide and full of a child’s eagerness. Amena, on the other hand, was avoiding touching the table when she realized what is was made of – making Dark frown a bit – and sat there, looking like she wasn’t paying attention.
Cuilliok shifted in the seat once more and began listening intently to the story being told.
“So at the time, when my son told me he had found a mortal woman he found pretty, I thought it was alright. Time moved on and he finally met the girl he had loved, or so he thought. The girl was small at the time of her father’s death, so she didn’t remember much, but remembered enough to say, ‘Do I know you from somewhere?’” He chuckled. “Of course, my son, frightened she would leave, said no. He continued making up a past and living a lie until it came time for him to pick his own headless horse to keep as a companion. He said he would be off looking at horses and she insisted to go with him. My wife, when she isn’t laughing or wailing, can pass as an average looking mortal, and tried to negotiate with the girl, but she wouldn’t have it. She said she loved horses and wanted to see how he would treat them.”
A loud and sudden cackle tore through the room, making the 3 youngest ones jump in surprise. “Oh, how I remember that moment. Stubborn, foolish girl. She believed that she wanted to go see him look at horses, but I remember her looking curiously around the home the few times we allowed her over, and they all happened when his father was on “business.” She never even guessed!” Louder cackling broke through the room and pounded on their ears.
The Dullahan seemed unaffected as his head, which was resting on the table, gave a small smirk. “Ah yes, I remember. Now where was I? Ah. The day we went to the small breeding farm we co-owned with another family arrived. My son, his lover, and my wife all set out in the black cart drawn by black horses. Wouldn’t you think that would be a warning sign?” He looked over at his distant relative and she hummed in response. “Don’t know eh? Well, that girl had no clue! When she arrived at the farm, she gasped and blinked and kept saying it wasn’t possible. I think she nearly went mad when she noticed all the horses had smoke coming out of their neck.”
“Then my husband rode over on his horse, and the mortal simply passed out. He picked out a proper steed – a little sullenly apparently – while I tended to the foolish girl. When she awoke, she became frightened as she realized what I was. Of course she had to cry out, ‘Please don’t kill me, I’m with child!’” She looked at the girl who started getting a glint of understanding on her face. “Yes child, that’s how your ancestor was born.”
“Whoa, hang on,” Nimue said, shock evident in her features. “Was this acceptable for back then too, having a child before you are properly engaged?”
“No, but it’s what happened often times. Of course, now my son is off with a nice Banshee woman as he should but –” Dark began.
“That’s fantastic, but I have a question,” Cuilliok interrupted, elbows propped on the table and hands tucked under his chin.
“Yes, of course. What is it?”
“I wanted to know why that was all relevant. I mean, were Strangers treated the same or were they accepted? How come her line didn’t die off like mine almost has?” he asked as he thought of them.
“Brother, that was two questions.”
“Stop being so technical, I’m busy.
“Trying to listen,” he nearly growled out, pushing his fangs out to almost their maximum length and darkening his eyes. Amena was shocked and almost tripped and fell over the chair as she jumped up. Nimue rolled her eyes while the other two sat there enjoying the banter.
After watching the small stare down begin getting worse, the dark man began talking. “Back then, Strangers weren’t tortured as they are now; rather, they were avoided all chances possible until one was okay mixing their bloodline with one of theirs. When the child was born and looked and smelled vaguely mortal, the family was disappointed, until we found out he could lose his head. Since then, the line continued on through mortal since the mother raised him a human. She later had 2 daughters, but the only one to carry on the line was her Stranger son. She was slightly ashamed, but made sure he never took off his head. She got him a mortal horse for him to ride, which he did well and proudly, and then he met his wife. She was a very accepting woman and even after finding out her beloved has a creature she was okay.”
“But that’s because she was one as well. Second generation anyway. So their daughter was like an elf while there son was more of a Dullahan. Their last child screamed like a Banshee, but nothing more. Since then, they remained in the mortal realm until Strangers were hunted, rounded up, and killed. The bloodline ran so far back, your family wasn’t traced. Be grateful child!” the Banshee cried, gesturing toward the ‘mortal’ as it is now.
“Well, now the question which part of my family did the Dullahan blood come from and why haven’t I ever experienced it before?” demanded Amena, now leaning forward but still seemed uncomfortable leaning on the table.
“Why don’t you figure it out girl? Bring those two along,” the lady gestured towards Nimue and Cuilliok. “They should be helpful in your search.”
“What if it was my mother? She died a while ago.”
“It wasn’t her,” the Dullahan sighed, probably annoyed with the two stubborn women arguing. “It must have been on your father’s side somewhere. Remember what was in the bloodline, and keep in mind not every child shows signs of being a Stranger, or all qualities that were passed down. Look at those two; one is most like a merman with a hint of vampire while the other is a dryad with some wisp within.”
How observant, Dark. Most don’t realize the sub qualities my family tends to carry, Cuilliok thought as he studied the Dullahan again.
The Dullahan’s body shifted to appear like he was looking at the boy while his head’s eyes remained trained on the distant relative of his. It sent shudders up the boy’s spine to picture what it was like to have that kind of ability. “How about if I ask: why don’t you check in with your own family, and see what secrets the hide?” The table turned towards his, wide eyed and curious in their own right. “Each man hides behind their own closed doors; each family hides their secrets in the depths of their home. Go take another look. Tell me what you find. It will take time, but that’s what I ask of you to do.”
All the Citizens and other Strangers looked at the girl. The green eyes met the hazel, vibrant red, dark brown, and the blue and brown ones. Slowly she sighed and nodded, silently accepting the challenge. She turned towards the oldest sibling. “What will we have to do?”
“A number of things, the first and most important being what the name of your village is.”
“The town is referred to as Baile Gaelach, but it’s a branch off of Porthca.” The was met by different reactions; the Strangers casting curious and suspicious glances at one another while the husband was rigid in his seat, face not showing any emotion and his wife looking enraged.
“That damn town! I can’t believe one of my own would go to such a place!” the Banshee shrieked as she began tossing things – soft things, like chair cushions and the stacks of cloth behind her, thankfully – at the mortal as she screamed and yelled and cursed.
Finally the Dullahan rose, grabbing his head which glowed darkly now, his horse neighing and stomping somewhere outside feeling his rider’s rage. “That town is a place not many, no, no Citizen or Stranger steps into anymore. How did you even come all the way out here from there?”
Nimue intervened. “She was near a pond there and started running when a creature, most likely a Fomori, swam towards her. Please sir, explain what’s wrong with that place? And how far is it?”
The Banshee snorted. “Youth these days. They know nothing apparently. Baile Gaelach is a place where all Irish Celts are. That’s not the bad part. The bad part is that their Druids are liars and they pay false respects to other idols. We hate the gods, yes, but going to another religion, believing in other – shameful!”
The girl breathed deeply to calm herself. “Those in the part of my town aren’t like that – I come from the folk who shame those who believe in that Roman religion.”
That seemed the trick to calm the two monsters, but Cuilliok wasn’t risking it. Sure, they aren’t the fiercest creatures in their world, but both together are powerful and frightening. “If I may ask again, how far is it from here? I would like to leave soon and not be held responsible for the kidnapping of their child if I can help it.”
The two shared a knowing grin and Nimue sniggered in the background. I don’t get what I’ve done wrong. “Nice to know you care so much about a girl Cuilliok,” the woman clarified, making his sister laugh loader.
Oh. Amena and the boy colored slightly, Cuilliok huffing and crossing his arms, turning his face away slightly.
“No need to act like a small child brother.”
“Can my question be answered please?”
Dark laughed a deep laugh, surprising coming from one whose lungs and head aren’t connected. “Most of a day’s journey. I’ll see if I can find a good way to carry all of you over on the cart. Till then, let’s rest and eat. I’m sorry Amena, your family will have to worry some.”
Nimue thought a moment. “Actually, I may be able to deliver a message quick –” she was cut off by her yawning.
The wife shook her head, her ruby lips pulling into a motherly smile. “No child, come. Rest over here. I’ll set up another cot,” she glanced at the boy and girl. “But I’ll have you share with Amena; I don’t trust the boy anymore.” This statement brought about more laughter and a brighter shade of pink to appear on the two youngest Strangers faces.
Five minutes later, the cots were set up and they sat on them in a triangle formation, gathering around a large plate of apples and grapes. “Good night children. Come along, Ishee,” the man called to his wife who was now bringing the children water touched with a drop of mead for a little extra.
“Coming Dark dear!” she called back, setting the tray of glasses down on the floor not far from them. “Good night everyone!”
“Good night sir and miss,” was echoed in three different variations before the door leading to the bedroom shut.
Cuilliok looked around the room as he sat on the cot and munching on an apple slice, another held in his left hand. Near the bedroom door there was an old looking window that was weather worn with a small table containing black roses. Those are rare now; I wonder where they got them? The way the window faced he could see the moon through the treetops. Looking around the room, continuing rightward, he noticed the small shelves full of weapons that ranged from swords to whips. Next to it, there was a place to display armor or special clothing, but currently lacked any objects on it. The path to their kitchen was around the corner from that wall, light still drifting out of that room with the smell of mead, making the air sweet.
The table was wide, meant for a large family to sit at which accounted for the extra chairs that were now under the window facing outside. The bone table was a few feet from the window that was nicely crafted, the joints of each bone connecting well with one another. The chairs were wooden for the most part, but the arms had metal frames, showing their new age, and each covered in wool. The cushions were supposed to be stuffed with feathers and he assumed it was full of raven feathers. Turning more on his cot and listening to the girls with one ear, he continued looking at the home like house and ignoring the weird looks thrown at him.
Now he was facing the front door, littered with small carvings and pictures around the frame and low on the door. Probably their son or his children, he thought as he finished one slice and dusted his right hand on his pant leg while eating the other slice with his left. The mantel held a collection of paintings, some professional and some obviously made by a child. There were also small signs of each kind of creature they had in their family: a bone carved into in order to make an amateur bone hairpiece for a young girl, a leather – or human skin – bag that created a roundish shape, and clay skull.
The fireplace was lit and burning out, the smoke probably seen from far since the place the smoke went up towards was a small gaping hole in the roof. Firewood was stacked up high on the left. And a glass was being shoved into Cuilliok’s face along with a chunk of cheese being thrown at him was what came from the right.
“Honestly guys?” he asked as he turned. The two girls laughed, continuing to pester him and they started a small food fight, each emerging with some sticky apple and bits of cheese in their hair.
“Guess this means we shower in the morning,” Nimue announced as she grinned and threw a piece of apple from her hair into her brothers blue eye on the left.
Amena laughed and they all began the long process of assisting each other in getting rid of the chunks of snack in their hair and undoing their braids that were spread about in no certain pattern. A half hour later they were as clean as they could get right then, and Nimue took the plate to the kitchen while Cuilliok moved the tray that held the drinks onto the brick in front of the fireplace and drained his drink. Amena sat warming in front of the fire and sipping on the drink still, Nimue’s glass resting not far from her on the bricks.
When Nimue returned and lay on her stomach on the edge between the two cots, Amena set her glass on the tray along with Cuilliok’s empty one. She turned to the pair, hair glowing more brightly from the flame. “What’s the story behind your family? If you wouldn’t mind telling I mean,” she questioned, tilting her head to one side as she studied their reactions.
The brother stiffened and looked into the heart of the fire, hand clenching, while the sister put her head in her arms and leaned more towards her brother. Noting this she quickly added, “Well, if that’s a bad topic, can I ask what happened to your parents at the very least?”
The older one sighed and lay on her side with her head propped up on her hand to better look at the girl. “I’ll tell you, but only so you understand what dangers you may face and because we will be finding secrets of your family soon. They both died from extreme pain and sorrow. My mother’s tree she cared for so she could leave her mark was slashed and scorched, causing her physical pain as a dryad. Later she was beaten, hung from that same tree, and burned in death. My father was constantly stoned and had carving knives thrown into him. He had felt terrible about my mother’s death so he didn’t fight against the Citizens when they captured him in the local lake in a fisher’s net and speared him through the stomach and left him out “as bait” to die in a net strung up above the lake for all to laugh at and scorn.”
The newly discovered stranger simply stared at the pair a while longer. She opened her mouth to speak when the brother cut a sharp glance towards her that made her lean back slightly in shock.
“Don’t give us your pity; it’s what happens each generation in one form or another. Can we sleep now?” he asked as he rubbed his face feeling exhausted.
His sister was already curling up under a woolen blanket and when he didn’t receive a response, he laid down on his sister’s left and curled against her by instinct. Amena, a few moments after Cuilliok and Nimue had situated themselves, she laid slightly further on the bigger cot under the woolen blanket, each ignoring the fact they were wearing most of their day clothes.
“Good night you two.” As she began drifting off, a male voice whispered, “You too.”
The next morning the young Strangers all awoke to the smell of something toasting over the cooking fire. They stayed in the cot attempting to wake up until Ishee walked over to the table with a large pile of meat while Dark followed behind with a few mugs full of something warm. The Strangers all got up and raced to the table, Amena lagging behind a bit, having extra morning tiredness because she is more mortal.
The plates were filled and mugs full of warmth. Amena studied the meat carefully, unsure of what it was, and began moving it around with a fork. Finally Nimue took a huge hunk of one of the pieces and ate it. “Just eat the piece of meat!”
“Yeah, fine.” She gulped and eyed it warily, finally eating a piece and humming in approval and sloshed down some of the drink. Everyone else of course waited until later to tell her what it was.
“I believe it was a grounded mix of pig liver mixed with beef which was made into a patty,” Cuilliok responded after being pestered by the girl as they waited for Nimue to finish the food she was eating now, the leftover apple slices and some wild nuts. “And the drink was steamed blood with water and a few spices, I think.”
“Why aren’t you the chef?” Nimue joked around a mouthful.
The girl paled. “I’m going to be sick now.”
“I haven’t seen ya puke yet, you’ll be alright,” Cuilliok commented as he rolled his eyes, his human accent coming back out.
Another difference between mortals and creatures is how they speak. The people of their homeland have accents that have abbreviations and occasionally harsher or higher sounds when they are pronounced. Creatures lived back when there wasn’t a differing accent among people unless it was just how the person spoke. Creatures generally are known for smoother voices that are tinged with an accent from where they are from. Some Citizens spent a short vacation of a few decades over in a place the Grecians used to rule and came back with a tinted accent, sounding slightly different from the others. Gods are different, because they speak their own tongue among the Aesir and each mortal or creature they speak to hears it in their native tongue, as is the magic of Asgard, the home of the gods.
The others stared at him in a mix of amusement and confusion. Once this situation was explained to Amena, she laughed as well. It seemed like you simply lost a part of your accent, but it seems it’s still there deep with you!” she laughed, popping another small nut into her mouth. “Glad I got to hear that and how different it sounds! How come you slipped though?”
Ishee walked back into the common area, as referred to by the couple living there, and said, “It’s easier to influence a younger one’s speech,” as she nodded towards Cuilliok and took a seat at the table the others were seated at. “Being older even by a few years makes a difference when it comes to unleashing an accent. Give her a week and him another day or two and they’ll sound just like you. We have them and can unleash them, but only if you want to.”
Amena tilted her head but nonetheless nodded slowly. “Alright, I guess that’s a good answer for now. So when we arrive at my house and they spend a bit of time their accents will show up?” Prompted by Ishee’s small smile and nod, she continued. “Will it come back completely or just until they leave again?”
“The same applies both ways child. You don’t realize it but you’re gradually losing yours the more time you spend here. It’s an interesting quirk to have but can be annoying at the same time.”
“Yeah tell me about it,” Cuilliok mumbled, resting his cheek in his palm and leaning on the table dejectedly.
After another round of laughter, Ishee and Dark finally sent the kids outside with directions to the river, although they knew it was unnecessary. They kids were also sent with two towels and some bars of soap for bathing. Cuilliok, slightly eager to feel safe in a river again, led the way, traipsing through the brush with ease while Nimue was held up by helping Amena jump and duck and maneuver around the branches and things that would stick out, making an obstacle.
“Good thing you humans have decent weapons,” Nimue chuckled.
Amena shot a glare at the other girl “What’s that supposed to mean? Besides, it’s not like you aren’t a human too.”
Why am I the one stuck listening to this? And why bother waiting? Cuilliok thought as he stared longingly towards the river and waited until they two caught up before he started to rush off again. This time though, Nimue kept a solid grip on his arm which made him fell backward. He glanced up at his sister confused.
“We’re walking together. Maybe explain why you’re freaking out about going to the river or something to relax,” she said, pulling her brother back up after passing the bathing items to Amena.
I’m not explaining why I need to get to the river, but I’ll mention some things about different powers I guess….
He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, pulling at a few knots here and there. “Well, I’ll talk about different powers we creatures possess. I can breathe just fine in water, transform between my two forms, and I need to work on it, but I can control anything that deals with water. Eh, technically –” he started before the newly found Stranger interrupted.
“Wait. But aren’t you a few different things? And what do you mean two forms? I can’t even begin to think what controlling water is like…” she said, mumbling more towards the end of her sentence.
“Yes I am, but the dominant qualities I have are that of merfolk. I can tap into my “other” powers, but it takes a lot more energy and doesn’t feel natural to me,” he responded. At the girl’s slow nod, he continued, feeling more excited each step closer to the river they got though the progress was slowed slightly by having to help Amena out. “My two forms are my “normal” flesh and blood, two-legged one and my merman form. Obviously what I’m standing in front of as is one form. The other one I’m slightly taller due to my tail being longer than my legs usually are and I have a slightly muted looking color because my main color is green.”
“Hm? Muted? And does each person have a different color?”
“Yeah, muted, like looking at a dirty area in water or a fish that blends in with the waves. My scales blend in with the ocean so I appear not as colorful in this form. Each person gets a different color for their scales, and that color can be used for different marking and symbols that show the progression you’ve had so far, accomplishments, or signs of special abilities.”
“Huh. Alright,” she started as she slowly nodded. “Well, if you can tell all that with merfolk, is there any way to tell with other creatures as well, like dryads or banshees?” Amena’s voice was full of curiosity and she cast a quick glance to the side with Nimue.
Nimue rolled her neck, making it crack loudly. Does that mean it’s her turn? “Well, in a way.” Oh, thank the gods. I just don’t know what to say because I’m so used to these things, Cuilliok thought as his sister elaborated on the response she gave.
“See, each creature is taught – or at least learns, if they are a mix – what the dynamics of being that particular kind. Like how different mortal races learn parts of their culture and don’t question the food they eat and how they act until they meet someone from another place, and I believe culture varies from village to village. They understand the general rules, but don’t understand why they do things in a certain manner. Hell, for all I know, Ishee could be representing the most annoying Banshee ever and I wouldn’t know.
I personally know that dryads don’t usually have markings unless they have a rank of some kind, and most wear extremely bright and different colors from one another, and that represents their personality and their heritage. It’s almost the same for fairies and elves and such fae people, but it can represent the domain they reside over, the color of their glamour, and so on.”
At the end of her little speech, Cuilliok could smell the river, so while Amena was digesting the info, he jumped over all things in his path, hearing the two girls running to catch up behind me and hearing a muttered, “What caught him on fire in search of the river?”
Joke my family made, thanks to my dad. I’ll focus more on family later
They walked out to the wide river commonly used for bathing. The bathing area was deeper towards the center of the river, and the girls looked between each other and Cuilliok. “Uhm Cuilliok…” Nimue began, although she knew he would be too distracted by the water.
“Yeah, hang on.” He sat on the bed of the river after taking off his boots. He transformed his bottom half so he could easily take of his trousers now, and flung off his shirt before diving into the water and going along the river with the current. His sister sighed while Amena stared at him for a moment before undressing like Nimue. Cuilliok ignored this all though as he whipped through the water, though he stayed close to the bank so Nimue could find him easily when they were done.
He had forgotten how freeing splashing around in water was. He swam even more quickly now, his green tail cutting through the water with ease. He flipped himself out of the river and created a big wave when he landed back in the water on his back.
Ow, that stings, but I wonder why… oh, he though, remembering all the scars on his back. He ignored the overwhelming surge of emotions – anger depression fear – coming up within him and slowly swam along the bottom of the river, stirring up dirt and debris in his wake. He closed his eyes and breathed normally with his mouth and nose and the water flowing through his adaptable lungs like air.
He turned himself around quickly, sending a few fish scattering and pumped himself through the water once more, rising to the surface of the water as he moved against the flow of the river. Once in a while he did a few flips and tricks, or sat on the bank for a bit to simply enjoy the feeling of running water, before Nimue eventually called to him from the trees. He rose fully to the surface, only flicking his tail enough to stay in place.
“Hey Cuilliok! Wanna race?” Nimue asked with a crazy grin on her face, probably ecstatic from getting to run through the trees just because she could instead of fleeing from something.
He grinned back at her. “Of course, but don’t get to upset when I when!”
“Oh, you wish!” On this signal, they took off. Cuilliok seemed at a disadvantage because he was going against the current, but it made no difference to him. A few other Citizens laughed and cheered as they passed by, the tan and green blur in the water and the mostly brown blur in between trees.
When the two popped up back at the bathing place at the same time on either side of Amena, she jumped back and dropped the bathing items she had just finished packing up before the siblings pushed her in and laughed at how mad she seemed as she tried not to laugh.
This should happen a lot more often, the merman thought as he quickly changed form and threw on his things as he started running from the wet and seemingly mad mortal. The game kept up until they reached the house when suddenly the mischievous par was knocked down by a soaking wet thing on their back. They let out loud grunts at the loss of air as Amena cheered in victory, running into Dark and Ishee’s house.
The married couple glanced over confused at the girl, especially since she was completely wet, until the siblings rushed in and attacked her, knocking her down and having a free for all match “to the death,” as they would later say. Finally, the Banshee smoothed her bright ginger-red hair down a bit, and grabbed two children.
“Now kids, remember: I am a Banshee by nature and I raised several children like this. I will scream in yours ears at one of the highest pitches I can do without permanently harming them if you don’t stop. Is that understood?” she stated with a smile on her painted looking lips.
The two Strangers sniggered while the newest addition stared in shock. Finally, they were released and were asked – or told, depending on the point of view – what happened. After the explanation and much laughter, shoving, and many faces made at one another, they finally calmed a bit and remembered that they had made Amena drop all off the bath things and that they hadn’t groomed themselves properly. Ishee shooed them back out of the house saying they better be dry and look nice enough to go out – where to, she wouldn’t mention – and the walk back had each child in their own world.
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