I haven’t done an update on the project I’m working on in some time. Here’s the first part, and the second. This one takes place quite a bit later in the text, but it adds a lot of texture to the world, I think.
Worryingly, Brigit was nowhere to be found during the evening meal. “She’s probably off shooting something,” Aengus shrugged when Katrina voiced her concern.
She found her cousin outside on the stone steps, a golden goblet in one hand and a half-eaten drumstick in the other. “Give me some of that.”
“I don’t know if you’re ready for uisce, cousin,” Brigit replied. Nevertheless, she handed Katrina the cup. Katrina sniffed at the caramel-colored liquid.
“What happened with your husband?” she asked quietly.
“I don’t call him that anymore,” Brigit said with an uncharacteristic edge to her voice. Her face softened. “His name was Bres. We met when a party of Fomorians came to trade, long ago. They were our friends then, or at least our allies. Balor’s daughter was Kian’s wife, even– Lugh’s mother.” She paused for a lengthy drink. “You have to understand, the Fomorians are as strange to us as we are to humans. I think that was part of why I fell in love with the brute. He was like a sword; all the more appealing for his danger. And I was the only one who could wield him.
“We had a son. He was a beautiful, beautiful lad. Took after his father– he grew so very quickly. His name was Ruadan. But then he chose to take his father’s part in the War.”
“There wasn’t much about the War in Mannan’s Book,” Katrina probed.
“Your father is a tender man. No craven, of course, but certainly not like my brother.”
“How did it even start?”
“The way these things always start. Some fool man thought he didn’t have enough land. This time it was Balor.”
“He wanted the Tuatha’s land too?”
“I will say, he at least tried to avoid bloodshed at first. That was where Bres came in. His mother was one of ours, you see: Eri. But his da was one of Balor’s pal-kings. Balor sought to marry him off to one of our High. Then Bres could be crowned King of the Tuatha, since Nuada had just lost his arm. But I knew nothing at the time. Just that he was different, as was I.” Brigit took another swig.
“He loved me, I think, at least for a time. And I loved him. When Bres decided to make his claim as king, I… I think I laughed, when he told me. Maybe that was what did it. If his own wife wouldn’t accept him, how would all those other people, to whom he was just some strange hulking alien? Certainly not with so many other pure Tuatha fit to take the crown. He went to Nuada and Lir and Kian and the Dagda anyway. ‘What would a woman know about this?’ was what he said to me.
“And he was right, at first, at least. The Sons of Danu thought it would be a way of restoring permanent peace. Half-Fomorian, half-Tuatha. The humans were starting to come over in droves as well, from wherever down south; they thought we might need Balor’s army. We weren’t as warlike a people then. I never saw Ruadan prouder than that day his da was crowned King of the Tuatha De Danaan. The rest of the Tuatha never saw him as a king, just an interloper half-breed, though I think even then they would have put up with him… If he hadn’t started leveeing taxes. That were bad enough—we’re a free folk, with no real need for that nonsense. Our tax is our lives, when the land needs defending. But Bres, he thought we should share our wealth with the Fomorians, with Balor. And that couldn’t stand. The Sons of Danu called a meeting of all the other lords, and they crowned my father, the Dagda, right in front of Bres.
“Bres went berserk. Lir took to the sea to escape his wrath and never came back out. By the time the dust had settled, Bres had fled home, back to the Fomorians. Even then, Ruadan wouldn’t leave him. He was a brave lad. Thirteen only, but already tall as his da. How old are you?”
The question startled Katrina. “Fourteen.”
Brigit smiled wanly. “You would have been good for each other. He was never as cruel as Bres. More like Aengus— a summer thunderstorm, rather than hailfury. But after they left, I never saw him again. Not alive. Half a year later Bres returned with Balor and a host of Fomorians. I was with your father and the rest of our family. They told me to stay behind, as though that would ever happen.”
“I wouldn’t have, either.”
“I believe you.”
“Ruadan died that day?” Katrina pressed gently.
“I was with the archers on a hilltop by the right flank. Aengus was in the vanguard. So was my son— and Bres. Aengus swears he tried everything to save his life, but the lad just kept coming after him, yelling all the while about lies and birthright. I think he really believed Bres; that his father deserved the crown, that he was a good king.”
“What happened to Bres?”
Her cousin looked as though she had eaten something rancid. “Oh, he lived. We haven’t seen any of their lot since, except for a little bother a few hundred years ago, but he’s out there still. I wonder sometimes if he knows he killed his own son. Ruadan had no business being in a battle, much less the vanguard. Not against his mother’s people. But I bet my bow Bres made sure that was where he was. All the more glory for his bloodline.”
“I’m sorry, Brigit.” It was the only thing she could think to say.
Brigit shrugged. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“This was a long time ago?”
“Not long enough,” Brigit sighed. “Look, cousin: Go back inside and leave me to my wallow. Dance with that houndsboy you seem to have taken a shine to. But remember: Nothing is true but blood.”
Something about her mention of Conor tugged at Katrina’s instinct, and an unreasonable hope seized her. “What did he look like?” she asked.
“Eh? Who?” Brigit replied blearily.
“Ruadan. What did he look like?”
“He favored Bres, everyone says. He certainly wasn’t flameheaded. Darker, like.”
“Have you ever thought that maybe Conor—“ The horror of guilt pressed down on her as she realized her mistake. Brigit’s son would have been far older than her friend. “Oh, Brigit. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean…”
Brigit magnanimously waved her off. “You’re not the first who’s said words to that effect. Every five hundred years or so some softbrain comes around thinking he’s found him. But I saw him. What was lef–. What…” She lapsed into silence, staring off at the distance and sipping from the goblet.