We are the wicked, the fierce, the beautiful, the savage. We battle each night, caught between the heavens and the circles of hell, hovering over the earth, our blood spattering the rocks and fields below. We are the Good People, the Neighbors, the Fey, the Host.
I am Pen n’ Liri n’ Lintes n’ Merin.
It means Pen of the Cold Light Sea, and I was named for my pale blue eyes. But if you can see my eyes, it means you’re about to die.
My father was Nil n’ Amran abha Mort, Nil of the Music for your Death. In his day, he was feared as for his skill at battle, his cunning at chess, his bittersweet telling of poetry. But I have exceeded him in all these, until even he has bent his head and acknowledged me. I wear his torc on my arm and on my neck and I paint his colors on my skin when I go into battle. There is no shame in a father being bested by his son.
I do not know my mother’s name. My father tells a story of her and the other Fey women fleeing from the ferocity of he and the other warriors, taking with them our songs, our harps, the gravity that pulled us to the ground. They sailed away on a boat that drank the black sea and was never seen again.
And so we live and we fight in the air, too light to be bound to the earth. We fight for the herds of cattle below, their hides in every color of the earth: clay red, chalk white, humus black. We fight for glory, scarring the skin of our arms with a hatch mark for every soul that falls. We fight for love and the bonds of brotherhood.
We fight for the joy of fighting. The triumph of spilling blood.
We are the wicked.
* * * * *
It is Samhain, the day of the dead, and the battle tumbles in the dark skies over the earth. The air is filled with our battle screams and the crashing of sword to sword, sword to shield, shield to skull. My blood runs from new hatchmarks on my forearm.
I am fearless, I am death itself, I am the best warrior that has ever breathed the word Ghaila: war.
In the fearful night that we have bred, raining our colorless blood, thundering with our battle-fury, I hear a song.
War-heavy heart, I sing for thee,
my warrior, my love, my whisper in the night
The only death is to forget
And I am falling. The vastness of the air between me and the Earth shrinks, and I am a hawk, plummeting for my prey, only there the ground is the predator and I am the quarry.
I fall through the death-black darkness and land heavily, my breath escaping through my open mouth, a dove that does not return. Blood from warriors above drips on my face.
Voices swim towards me, three different timbres. One is the voice that sang the song. Her face is fair, her eyes light blue as mine are. She watches me as the other two speak, discordant, words of another time and place. They have satchels on their backs and the beardless faces of boys.
My breath has still to return. My fingers are lonely without the hilt of my dagger between them. My skin sings a murder-sweet song of pain. And still they speak and I am a seaman without sea legs, unable to find my footing in this rocking world.
Finally, my gift of language conquers the blackness roving before my eyes and my ears find their words.
“Where did he come from? How does someone just fall from the sky?”
The girl’s voice pitches above theirs. “Ryan, get him off the car. It’s burning him!”
Their hands are the claws of eagles as the men tear me from where I have fallen; my breath returns in a gasp between the cage of my teeth as my skin peels off behind me.
“What the hell? Look what the car did.”
Away from where I have fallen, I can breathe again. My side aches but it is now only another battle-wound; I’ve had many, and this burn that has turned my blood to red is barely a wound at all.
“It’s the iron in the car,” the girl says. “Don’t you get it? It burned him. He fell from the sky. He’s a–”
They are looking at me now in a different way. One of them says, in a voice low as a mourning dove’s call, “Where did you get that song, Cass?”
Her eyes hold me, telling me all the stories my father did, telling all the stories I did, only better.. “My mom sang it to me. Back in the States. She said it was old. Are you all right?”
I stand. Around me, the night is lit by lights in colors I have no words for. My throat is choked by air too thick to breathe. The sounds of battle are far away.
“I am Pen n’ Liri n’ Lintes n’ Merin,” I say. For a moment, I do not know what else to say. I can not say we are the wicked, the fierce, the beautiful, the savage, for there is no “we.” I am not a warrior, here. I am in exile. My feet have grown too heavy to fly and the sky has grown too dense to admit me reentrance. Though I have never felt fear, this would be a place for it.
But instead, I find my dagger on the ground beside me, and I straighten, tall and with the strength of oaks.
And they look at me, at my cold, light blue eyes and the grip of my fingers on my dagger. Without the iron on my back and without the girl’s song to weigh me down, the air seems to thin, beginning to welcome me back. The atmosphere sings for blood, a sacrifice, before I can tread the sky again.
One of the men says, “Careful. He’s dangerous.”
But the girl says, “Your eyes look like the sea.”
I hold out my hand to her.
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photo courtesy uk – charlie