polychrome_pen: (MOTU - He-Man and Teela)
[personal profile] polychrome_pen
Whew, it's been quite some time since I've posted here.  Between getting back from Ireland, the Jewel Riders Archive celebrating its one-year anniversary, trying to keep up a somewhat-steady word count with the new novel, and trying to go through my collection and debox stuff and move DVDs into a trunk that holds 1000 in sleeves, I have literally had no time haha. Not to mention I'm starting the application process to try and find a new job, but eh.

Ireland was great, though.  Beautiful country, fabulous people, lots of beer and cider haha.  I'll try to get up a few pics when I finally get them all sorted.

On the flight back, though, I wrote up a short piece that I tried submitting to a small LGBT anthology, but it got turned down.  Oh well, I'll just leave it here until I can think of something to do with it.  Setting is ancient Ireland (Hibernia) around the time the great burial mounds of Knowth and Newgrange were built.  Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.  :)

Wind whistled across the Hibernian plains as the sun warmed Aedan’s still form.  Sweat trickled down his back, and his neck was craned over his master’s work.  Padraig’s ancient, sun-weathered hands worked slowly, meticulously placing chisel and hammer to stone, as if every second was not robbing him of the chance to complete his last great work.  Between the warmth of the sun and the rhythmic beat of the hammer and chisel, Aedan’s felt his thoughts drift like reeds swaying in a lazy bend of the river.
The sharp crack of a willow switch across his arm shocked Aedan back into his current surroundings.  “Pay attention, young one!” Padraig growled, his voice cracking like the dry leaves of autumn.
For the hundredth time that day, Aedan felt the familiar chafing frustration.  He had not chosen this life, of priest and stone carver.  Aedan longed for adventure: to be out hunting the great horned deer with Cormac and the other young men.  Not stuck with the aged and wizened, learning rituals and stars and the slow, painstaking stonework.
Aedan had been told over and over how important the work was, and how honored he should have felt to carry it on.  For without a new guiding stone placed at the edge of the grassy, rock-lined mound where the dead awaited their transition to the afterlife, the sun could not carry them there on its light.
Aedan knew it was important work.  But by all who had gone before, he wished that he was not the one who had to be responsible for such a burden.
The young man groaned, eager to stretch his legs after hours spent in a cramped crouch.  “Master, the sun is high and hot.  Let me run to the river and fetch you some cool water.”
Padraig gave a wheezy laugh that sputtered into a cough.  “I was not taken from the birthing hut yesterday, child.  I know you only wish to find Cormac, perhaps have him take you on the riverbank.”
Aedan felt a hot flush come into his pale cheeks.  “Of course not, Master!” he bristled.
Padraig laughed again, motioning for Aedan to help him rise.  “The young forget that their elders were once strong and virile too.”  Padraig shaded his eyes, looking out over the village spread out beneath the central mound.  Woven-grass huts were grouped in small clusters, with trickles of smoke crawling out from the cooking fires.  The farmers and herders were spread beyond, tending crops and beasts.
Padraig’s other hand absently traced the spiral design he had carved into the huge stone.  “Go, find Cormac and have him bed you,” the old man said.  “The work will still be here when you return.  Perhaps you will have a better attitude when that is done?”  His eyes twinkled in merriment.
Aedan couldn’t help letting a grin flash across his face.  “I most certainly will,” he replied, before turning on his heel and racing off.

Aedan twirled a finger around Cormac’s red curls as they lay together beneath their cloaks on a secluded bank of the Boyne River.  It had been a surprise to Aedan when Cormac expressed interest in his hand.  Cormac was the village Chieftain’s second son, and one of the best shots with his bow.  That his interest ran between menfolk and womenfolk was puzzling to Aedan and the rest of the village, but Aedan was glad to have caught the lad’s eye.
Aedan’s hand ran down Cormac’s muscled chest as he pulled himself in closer to the sleeping man.  Cormac stirred, wrapping a large hand around Aedan and sighed before opening his green eyes.  “Are you that eager for another round?” he asked with a drowsy chuckle.
Aedan gave a contented laugh.  “You only wish.  No, the sun grows low in the sky, and Padraig will expect me back.”
Cormac raised an eyebrow and smirked. “As much as you profess to hate your station, you certainly seem to have little problem meeting all of Padraig’s expectations.”
Aedan felt his cheeks grow warm.  “I still owe him for taking me in, you know.”  Aedan knew Cormac remembered the sickness that had swept across the village eight winters ago, claiming almost half their number, including Aedan’s family.
Cormac smiled as his hand traced lazy circles on Aedan’s back.  “I doubt old Padraig feels that you owe him anything.  You brought life back to his life.”
Aedan grew pensive.  “But that life is close to its end.  I see him grow slower, Cormac, see the shakes in his hands as he tries to carve.  I doubt he’ll live through the next winter.”
Cormac sat up, pulling Aedan along with him.  “And then you will continue his legacy.”
“But I’m no good for it,” Aedan muttered, crossing his arms across his bare chest.  “I want to be out there with you, hunting and scouting and trading.  I’m too young to spend my life working on a tomb!”
Cormac shook his head and smiled.  “What I hunt feeds people for a day, perhaps two.  The role you will inherit feeds our souls, even after death.”

Aedan felt a rock dig into his shoulder, and stirred on the woven mat as he lay on the floor of the hut he shared with Padraig.  Shifting slightly, Aedan reached under the mat to remove the offending object before lying back down.  Padraig snored lightly in a pile of animal furs that Cormac had gifted them several seasons ago.  Half-awake now, Aedan cocked his head to hear faint sounds carried on the wind.  The snorts of animals, the rustling of the tall grasses and crops, the hoot of an owl.
The sound of footsteps creeping through the village.
Fully alert now, Aedan crept out from beneath his own furs and crawled to the hanging hide that covered the doorway.  He pulled back a corner, peering into the moonlit night, and his blood ran cold.
Barbarians stalked the camp.  Aedan could make out their grotesque, painted faces as they vaulted over a livestock pen filled with sheep.  The intruders were trying to make off with some of the sheep, to slaughter them for meat no doubt.
Aedan jumped up from his mat and shook Padraig awake.  “Master, wake up,” he whispered, growing frantic.  “Barbarians walk the village.”
Padraig’s sleep-clouded eyes cleared as he woke up to the whispered warning.  Shaking his silver-haired head as if to clear it, Padraig said, “We can’t let them get away.  You must gather Cormac and the other men to chase them off.  We cannot lose our flock this close to winter.”
Aedan nodded in assent.  “Stay safely hidden, Master.  I’ll be back soon.”  Aedan began to pull back the corner of the skin covering the doorway before Padraig’s hand grasped his arm.
“You wanted adventure, boy, but take care.  The barbarians are dangerous folk,” the old man said.
Aedan said nothing, simply nodded to his Master and crawled out, the rough grass scratching his palms.  When he was far enough away from the barbarians, he stumbled forward into a run and pelted off down the hill toward Cormac’s hut.
Arriving at his lover’s tent, Aedan shook Cormac awake with fierce urgency.  “Come quickly!  Barbarians are in the village, trying to steal our livestock!” he said, his breath hitching in gasps.
Cormac silently nodded and grabbed his bow and knife before following Aedan out.  They woke up Fergal, Seamus, and several of the others.
Cormac thrust a knife into Aedan’s hand before addressing the others.  “Do not let the barbarians claim our animals, or our honor!”
Aedan ran with the rest back toward the paddock, his lungs burning at the effort of keeping up with the more athletic young men.  As the barbarians came in sight, Cormac and the others shouted wild battle cries before falling on them.  Arrows flew as Aedan yelped and ducked to avoid a hulking woman’s stone mace.  Fires began lighting in the distance as the commotion woke others and drew them into the battle.
Out of the corner of his eye, Aedan saw Cormac had put away his bow and was trading blows with the barbarian leader.  Aedan edged toward them, hoping to help Cormac, but tripped over a still body on the ground and went down among the bleating sheep.
When Aedan turned over, the barbarian woman stood over him again, a leer splashed across her feral face.  Her club was raised, and Aedan felt rooted like an oak to the ground as it began an impossibly slow descent toward his skull.
At the last moment, a white-robed figure jumped between the mace and Aedan, and Aedan let out a gurgling cry as he saw the stone strike Padraig and send him reeling toward the ground.  Aedan was suddenly on his feet, the stone knife Cormac had placed in his hand biting deep into the woman’s arm, blood oozing from the gash.
The woman screamed and ran, her useless arm hanging at her side, and Aedan dropped to his knees, frantically shaking Padraig.  “Master, Master, please wake up!” he gasped, tears stinging his eyes.
But Padraig’s eyes were fluttering closed, and the old man simply reached out a trembling hand.  Aedan grasped the hand in his own, pulling his Master’s callused hand up to caress his face.  “Don’t leave me, Master,” Aedan cried.
But Padraig’s arm went limp, and Aedan knew he would never see the old man in this life again.

Aedan felt listless as he stared at the spiral carving that was Padraig’s last, unfinished work.  The design seemed to float off the rock in the evening gloom.  Aedan had not been able to bring himself to return to the burial mound and the guide stone until today, a fortnight after the barbarian raid.  Aedan hadn’t even been back to his own hut, moving in with Cormac instead.  Anything to get away from the pain.  He had lost his family twice now, and clung to Cormac like a lost lamb.
“Only you can finish it before the light comes,” Cormac had said, placing Padraig’s chisel and hammer in Aedan’s hand and grazing his lips across Aedan’s cheek.  “I know you’ll make Padraig - and me - proud.”
That had been hours ago, and Aedan had simply stood there, gazing at the spiral.  He thought of Padraig’s expert movements, tiny chips out of the rock blossoming into beautiful carvings.  Aedan’s fingers, never filled with designs like Padraig’s, felt dull and lifeless.
Leaning back from his tired crouch, Aedan flopped back on the grass and looked up at the clouds overhead, the tiny rays of late-afternoon light filtering through.
Far off, the winds carried the sound of bleating flocks of sheep as they were herded back into their pens, and the deep lowing of cattle.  Aedan felt weariness in his very bones.  The whole village was counting on him to make a new guiding stone, not only now, but for many years to come.  How could he who had never wanted this life possibly be up to the task?
Aedan closed his eyes for a moment, and awoke to the salty, smoky smell of Cormac.  He blinked his eyes as they adjusted to the darkness, and started as he realized he was inside the woven-grass hut he had shared with Padraig.
“Sorry, you were a bit heavy to carry all the way back to my hut, so I decided to just spend the night here,” Cormac whispered beside Aedan.
The hut, with its once-familiar tools, baskets and furs felt foreign now, as if it belonged to someone else’s life.  A life where Aedan didn’t have this burden alone, to shepherd the dead’s souls beyond this land and into the next.
Cormac touched Aedan’s arm beneath the fur, a look of concern across his features.  “You look a thousand leagues away, lover.”
Aedan tilted his head toward his red-haired love.  “I don’t think I can bear this alone, Cormac.”
“Is that all?” Cormac asked.
Aedan looked puzzled.  “What do you mean, ‘Is that all?’”
Cormac pulled Aedan up and out of the hut toward the embers of a fire glowing outside the entrance.  He grabbed a torch, plunging it into the embers for a few moments until it caught fire, then continued pulling Aedan up the path toward the central mound and ring of guide stones.  They found Padraig’s final work, and Cormac held the torch up to the spiral design.
“Do you see what this is?” Cormac asked, indicating the carving.
A peevish look crossed Aedan’s face.  “Of course I see what it is.  A spiral, like the ones we use to mark the moon’s passage.”
Cormac shook his head, the ghost of a smile flickering in the torchlight.  “Look beyond the star charting, Aedan.  A spiral begins at a single point,” he said, placing his index finger at the center, “and moves outward in rings of ever-increasing size.”  Cormac traced the circular curves.
“If this is some kind of test, I’m failing miserably,” Aedan said, frustration and confusion layered in his voice.
Cormac took Aedan’s hand in his own, and placed the boy’s fingers in the spiral design.  “We all begin as a single point, growing slowly outward, learning that which is beyond ourselves.  The spiral represents you, Padraig, me, and all the people of the village; our lives, our deaths, and the movement to the next life, through the doorway of the sun, into eternity.”
Aedan looked up at Cormac.  “We all walk the same spiral.”
Cormac smiled, before flicking Aedan’s forehead.  “So even if you lose sight of those ahead of you, you are never alone on this path.”

Aedan worked as if possessed.  Day and night, he carved the block of stone, chipping away the outer layer, revealing the design beneath.  Cormac brought him food when he forgot to eat, and carried him back to their hut when he fell asleep from exhaustion.
But Aedan knew that finishing the work was of utmost importance.  For Padraig.  For Cormac.  For himself.
One spiral grew into a second, which blossomed into a third.  All interconnected into a single image.
Finally, the eve before the equinox, Aedan stepped back from the stone and gave it an appraising eye.  It was finished.
As ritual demanded, he washed in the river and dressed in the furs of the priest.  Aedan entered the great mound and gingerly lifted the carved ceremonial mace from its resting place inside the east passage.  He said the ritual prayers over the charred bones of those who had passed on and awaited the sun’s doorway, and performed the sacred rites that would let the dead’s spirits leave their worldly remains.
Finally, in the hazy light of pre-dawn, Aedan stepped out of the tomb.  The village had gathered below, as it always did, to wish the dead a final farewell.  Aedan resisted a smile as he saw Cormac standing in the front of the crowd next to his father the Chieftain.
As was customary, Aedan addressed the congregated folk.  “Good people, we gather this morning to wish our family swift travels to the next world.  Though we miss their presence in this life, we should not mourn, for they travel higher roads.”
Aedan indicated the triple spiral he had carved.  “A friend told me once that we all walk the same spiraling path, but I believe that there is more.  A person’s path winds outward until it crosses another’s - a teacher, a lover - and those paths merge, intertwining until the person can no longer tell what was their path, and that of their companions.”  Aedan traced the connected spirals.  “So when we lose someone with whom our path merges, we must cross paths with others, sharing our stories.  For only shared paths can open the next doorway.”
As Aedan finished, the sun crested the eastern hills, rays spilling into the mound’s east passage and filling it with brilliant light.  The souls had found their passageway opened.
Aedan breathed deeply, felt the breeze tousle his hair, and thought perhaps it his master’s final approval for a lesson hard learned.  Then he looked at Cormac, red hair ablaze in the dawn light, and wondered at all they still had to learn.

In other news, I finally read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and am firmly in the Scorbus camp ahaha.  I can't believe that the end craps all over it after pages and pages of romantic lines and subtext, but whatever.  That's what fanon is for.
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