Stitch in Time
Cliona in Dark Ages
Elements were unchained. The elements danced out escapades on the night sky, or buffeted young souls on sweet zephyrs, waves, rising hills, or warm gushes of harmless fire. Humanity lived in harmony with all that was. Whether out of goodness, or lack of need, no one was tempted to lose his soul for wont of power.
Sighing wearily, Cliona pushed long waves of brown hair from her face. Copying the Seanchas Temuair of old was a difficult enough task, but penmanship had never been her strong point or her joy. Her fascinations lay not in the ordinary tasks of priesthood, but the extraordinary: healing and the discovery of knowledge. This knowledge, the secrets of the tuatha de danaan, she had carried with her since the first moments of insight in becoming an Aisling, and having this history repeated time and time again when so many more worlds of information lay in waiting....
Surely there had to be easier ways of gaining knowledge, like the consistent rushes of insight attained by her fellow Aislings, but, alas, the hunt was not her path, not her calling in this life. Her talents lay in the healing and the words, not once was joy found in the death of another creature, Dubhaimid or other.
She laid her quill pen upon the oaken table, sitting back in her chair, letting her gaze wander across the expansive library of Loures. Books lined each shelf and she, on the order of Devlin, was to content herself with seeking her knowledge and intuition in menial tasks.
Och! This was too much to ask of one young woman!
Cliona uncrossed her legs angrily, then sighed and stood, letting the blue silks of her gown rustle about her. She could see the mountains of the Kasmanium mines in the distance and the tiny flickers of light in rich Abel. Beyond there, Mileth, her home, where her future lay in waiting for her. No, she shook her head. She wouldn't allow herself the luxury of thinking of times to come, of letting her mind wander from the task. She was a priestess and she must do as her teacher required.
If only it wasn't so...
She turned and sighed, moving away from the window, gathering up her parchments and inkwells, gathering up her books and texts and random drawings. She moved to leave, but gasped, startled, when she caught sight of a young man standing in the doorway, watching her. Not allowing herself to appear flustered, she pressed her books against her chest, taking stock of the Aisling before her.
That he was a mundane never crossed her mind, for even the dullest of Aislings held within themselves such a spark as this. She had already begun categorizing him before she consciously recognized him as standing there, gauging by the musculature not so pronounced as a warrior, the gleam in his eye not one of mischief but of consideration. A monk, perhaps? But what possibly could a monk be doing in these clothes? Could he be a warrior?
The vows of poverty kept them, for the most part, barefoot and defending themselves with only fists and skill. This young man, though.... An enormous two-handed sword hung from his belt and well-fitted suede boots covered his feet, while a cloak of velvet and fur hung from his shoulders. His appearance itself was no less fascinating. His hair, a dark brown, was long and hung in curls to his shoulders. His eyes were gray, soft, inviting, yet at the same moment dangerous.
Cliona felt a mixture of fear and elation at the sight of him. Part of her ached to run to him, to put her arms around him and feel every part of him, while another part of her, the thoughtful part, told her it was wisest and best to run home as quickly as possible and forget she had ever laid eyes upon him.
She sighed, shivering to her bare toes, watching the young man make his way across the room. She took in all of him. No jewelry save for silver earrings and a ring of emerald about one long finger. He looked perhaps to be no older than her, but somehow not the same age nor younger. How could that be? Some part of her sung ageless.
He reached out to her and she started, not having realized in this time that he had crossed the room to her, laying one smooth palm against her cheek. "It's alright, priestess. I could never harm you."
Cliona steadied herself on the corner of the table, letting her papers down upon the smooth wooden plane between them. "How do you know me?"
"I see you. You and your papers and your prayers all night long. You're a creature of the night, you know this."
Cliona forced back a smile. All her life she had been troubled by that fact that she could neither sleep at night nor keep awake during the day. But how dare this unknown tell her such private things?! She met his eyes a moment. "And if you see this in me, what does that ordain you?"
He laughed, softly. Normally such a sound would echo throughout the library, vibrating off of every surface and every high, arched ceiling. It seemed, however, that his laugh was meant for only her ears, and only her ears did it reach. The thought frightened her, as most things regarding this person seemed to do. "I am a draoidh de dorchadas, small one. You who seem so fond of the old tongue."
Cliona frowned slightly, not at the translation, but at the implication. "A magician of darkness? What kind of a creature is that?" The horrifying thought that he might be a minion of Chadul clutched her breast.
The young man shook his head, laying his hand upon hers, for she sank into a rough wooden chair as the moment overtook her. He sat beside her, one velvet fold of cloth brushing against her leg with a shiver. "I serve Danaan with the same fervor as you, little priestess. You mustn't worry, I won't steal you from your vocation."
Cliona blinked, her blue eyes sharp. "Then you must tell me what you are doing here. I'm here as a guest, if anyone finds out someone's entered Loures and they weren't informed....and if I knew and didn't tell them, I could be killed!"
The young man shook his head. "It's alright. I've lived here longer than most of the royal court. Longer than the king himself. Longer than any Aisling you've ever met."
Shaking her head, Cliona looked to the doorway. "That can not be."
The young man smiled, shook his head. Cliona turned to look at him, but he turned away. How strange. Every Aisling she'd ever met would eagerly share a smile with her, yet he would not?
"You yourself resent this education, Cliona, you yourself complained of being unable to seek the knowledge stored in these volumes. Who are you now to tell me that I can not be, when, surely as this table we sit before, I am."
"I never told you my name."
He nodded. "This is true."
"What are you?"
The young man stood and moved around the edge of the table, dropping to his knees before her, pressing himself against the satin of her skirt, straining it across her knees. "I am all you will have me be."
She quaked with fear and pulled back, trying to stand, grasping for a scream in the thick, smoky air of a hundred burnt candles, her feet not grasping a hold upon the floor, now waxed smooth with the ages. The young man held her wrist firm, pulling her against his chest, stilling her with nothing more than the soft breath of his exhale upon her hair. "I won't hurt you. You are the only one willing to listen to me."
Air caught in her lungs until every breath was a gasp. "Not for much longer. Stop with these tricks of the tongue and simply tell me who you are. Reveal yourself to me."
He sighed, almost wearily. "My name is Baidheil. I come from a place you dare not go, and from a time Aislings do not yet recall."
She shook her head, forgetting, for a moment, that a young man she did not know was holding her against her will, pressing her against his all-too-willing body. "I don't understand you."
He released her gently, easing her back into her seat, moving away, allowing her to compose herself. He walked to the window and gazed out upon the far-off mountains. "I'm so frightened that if I tell you the truth you would never believe me."
"You must let me make that decision for myself, Baidheil. You will never know if that is true if you do not try to help me understand what it is you're talking about."
He turned to her. "I was born in Finach. I watched the world under the division between Chadul and Danaan, and I watched Ainmeal in the days when he bestowed this honor upon your family. I watched the Shadows War and I cried in horror and pain at all the heartache these things caused. I watched them defeat and cage the Dubhaim and all of this I watched from the shadows."
Cliona shook her head, pushing her hair away, tying it with a strand of ribbon once used to tie a scroll, a scroll now torn in her struggle to retreat from this young male visitor. "This can not be possible. This is not something that can be done, Baidheil." She stood and walked towards him, reaching up to brush back his soft brown hair. "I can heal you..."
Laughing, he pawed her hands away. "I'm not mad, maighdean, I tell you the truth."
She eyed him, unconvinced by this show of playfulness. "Explain to me the magic behind this, then."
"I don't understand the magic behind it."
Cliona shook her head, turning. She watched the candles burning brightly in a hundred small brass and gold candelabras, hanging in chandeliers from the ceiling, illuminating the room like countless tiny stars. Elaborate paintings covered the arches, depicting the history of Temuair and the struggles for power, as well as the inevitable friezes illuminating the glory of the realm. Deep violet drapes of velvet hung before each enormous arched window, while shelves and shelves of parchment scrolls and leather-bound volumes in all colors lined the walls.
His hand was cool upon her shoulder, a gentle presence. "Cliona, I don't know how to explain this in any way which might make sense to you."
She turned. "Why me?"
He thought this over for several seconds. "Something in me told me you would understand this."
"How can you live for so many ages? You're so beautiful... like in the legends my mother told me when I was a child... you look like a spirit out of Hy-Brasyl."
Baidheil smiled, but not without the ache of sorrow. Cliona gently took his hand. "What troubles you so? Why do you come to me?"
"I want you to help me."
"You who claim to have lived for ages I can not begin to count, would like me, a priestess barely old enough to bear a child, to help you? How under the light could I help you?"
"I need your blessing. I need to know that what I've done is not unforgivable."
"What have you done?"
He sighed, his voice soft, sorrowful. "I've taken the lives of countless Aislings. I've sent the souls of thousands to Sgrios and I shall continue to until the day comes when I no longer roam this land. I've done this for as long as a can remember, without remorse for a single life. Until this evening, I was ready to take you."
Cliona held her breath, watching his soft, expressive gray eyes. "Why would you do such a thing?"
"To live. To take from you what I need to survive."
She watched him quite closely now, turning to press herself against him, one hand laid upon his chest to hold him away while the rest of her pressed him close. The spell of his eyes, soft gray like clouds heavy with rain, drew her into a state she could never fully explain, caught somewhere between awake and dreaming.
"What is this that you need?"
So caught within his eyes was Cliona that she did not fully grasp even her own actions until, quite suddenly, pain cut into her fingertips, and she drew back. Her fingers had grazed the edge of Baidheil's sword, slicing her soft skin with a razor's edge, blood dripping down the wound and onto the floor in a rapidly growing pool. Quickly, she whispered the beginnings of a weak incantation, wincing through her words until Baidheil gently took her hand and brought it to his mouth, closing his lips around these petal-soft fingers, softly suckling her.
Cliona tightened as if a string had closed around her, drawing all parts of herself together in perfect harmony. She hummed for this young man.
Baidheil closed his eyes and Cliona felt, enclosed even in the unbearable heat and moisture of his mouth, his tongue softly lapping at her fingers, his throat twitching as he came to swallow her blood. Within moments, perhaps too soon, he pulled away, letting her hand down, licking the salty blood from his lips. Cliona was breathless.
"I need this blood, Cliona. It's all that keeps me alive."
She watched him for long moments, breathing slowly to regain her balance. "Are you the only one?"
He shook his head. "I don't think so, but then again I can't be sure. I've never left Temuair to look for others."
The thought of a world beyond the seas frightened Cliona. She chose not to think of it. "How did you come to be this way? Were you born like this? I don't..."
He nodded and stroked his hand across her cheek. "I know. It's a lot to try and consider. I wasn't born this way. Back... a long time ago... when they were just discovering darkness. Right before everything fell to the Dubhaim, there was all sorts of magic. I was only as old as you are right now and I didn't understand any of it. There was magic and my teacher.... I only wanted to be a warrior, just like you thought I might be the moment I walked in here. He... I don't know where he got his ideas, but one day he brought in a man... he had been Hy-Brasyl."
He paused a moment, letting this sink in to Cliona. "This man... he put his lips to my neck, he drank my blood! I didn't know what was happening and there was nothing I could do. When he was done the old man told me to do the same.... Cliona, I didn't know."
She nodded, placed a hand upon his side, urged him forth. "The old man died. I thought that I had killed him, or I thought that that was what happened. I didn't know. But I became the creature that he was. I survive on blood, Cliona, and I don't know how to stop it. I need you to help me."
She shook her head, horrified at what he was telling her. She crossed the room and folded her arms beneath her breasts, shaking. She watched the floor as she paced, her mind considering all of this. "Have you tried ...?"
He shook his head immediately. "No! I can't.... I can't go without it, Cliona. It's a thirst a thousand times a human's thirst for water."
She watched him. "You don't think you're human?"
"I can't be."
Cliona stopped pacing a moment. "It's against my nature to condone someone attacking and killing another. I don't accept it even against the creatures tainted by darkness, not of the wolves or the kobolds or even the goblins."
"But what if the sacrifice of their life allows me to live? If it's the only thing which allows me to live. How can that be wrong? This isn't my choice, Cliona."
She turned to him, raising her arms in exasperation. "What do you want me to do, Baidheil? Why do you even come to me if you give me no choice but to condone what this is you're doing?"
He took ahold of her arm in the same grip as before, pulling her against him, at the same time both violent and gentle. "Did you ever have something eat away inside of you until you had no choice but to tell someone, even if you knew that person would never survive long enough to respond?"
Her eyes went wide with shock. "Baidheil, no..."
He bowed his head and planted a soft kiss upon her neck, feeling her body go slack against his own. Without another moment's pause he entered her flesh, feeling her hot blood pour into him, thick and rich and sweet, pure and crimson, gushing into him, nourishing him with purity and innocence more rare and delicious than any other.
She dropped to the floor with nothing more spectacular than a heavy thud, her hair spread out in a halo about her, long and brown and soft. Her eyes closed, her face perfectly serene, untouched by pain or fear, her eyelashes long and dark upon her pale cheeks. Heavy footsteps moved away from her, fur and velvet rustling softly as he dropped her hand, allowing it to fall upon the tight satin bodice of her gown.
The door creaked at it swung shut, metal latched clanging loudly enough to awake anyone nearby. Alone, in the darkness of a hundred candles burnt to the wick, Cliona moaned.
~ From Book Two: "A Stitch in Time"