A Bridge From Balor

by

CorbinJay

Chapter 5 - A Messenger from the Dragonflies

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The grain grew high in the fields of Tronwall. Through the long days of summer the farmers and herdsmen of Farrel's clan pursued their customary labors. No new attacks or supernatural occurrences were reported anywhere in the district. Most folk assumed that the druid's magic—or the priest's exorcisms—had driven away the evil powers. The clanspeople might have forgotten the entire incident of the serpents' attack on the manor house, except that new rumors kept appearing about their chieftain and his peculiar companions.

One woodsman spoke of discovering Lord Farrel and his friends in a forest glade. The group sat in a circle, holding hands, their eyes shut and heads bowed in meditation. The woodsman watched for a few moments, then cautiously slipped away into the forest.

A fisherman related how the six companions camped for a week on the shore of Lough Swilly, a cliff-bordered arm of the sea that formed the northern limit of Farrel's land. The fisherman reported that at night the group stood at the water's edge and chanted, long and low, ancient names belonging to the spirits of the sea.

When questioned about the rumors, Farrel's household folk would say little except to insist that the lord's guests were all of noble estate and estimable character. Even Kerrawyn, whom the servants had at first considered a raggamuffin, was now perceived by all to be a sweet and charming lady—if somewhat unorthodox in her dress and habits. Lecan the overseer boasted of how Glenna had cured his hands of the warts that had plagued him for twenty years. Keven the stewart remarked that the hall had not seen such cheer and merriment since the days of Farrel's parents, what with the Welsh harper's lively tunes and the three comely lasses, all of them good dancers. Moread the chief cook did admit to having glimpsed spirits about the house—a green-skinned sprite with leafy hair, a gnarly-faced dwarf who disappeared up the chimney.

MacLinn the dour farmer shook his head at all these tales and darkly predicted evil results. But most of the folk were unconcerned. Pagan and Christian ways existed peacefully together. Besides, the clanspeople had their minds on the approaching harvest, which promised to be bountiful.

On a sunny afternoon Aidan and Sontoral rode through the verdant forest, ambling along a path that wound through the hills north of the manor house. The reins of Sontoral's horse were tied to Aidan's saddle, leaving the Welshman's hands free to strum his harp. He played the same notes over and over, moving his lips silently as he tried fitting different lyrics to the tune.

At last, when the horses stopped to drink at a brook, the harper played the notes and sang:

“Oh sister, we have fallen in
With a troop of raving fools,
Here in the wilds of Ireland
Where only lunacy rules.

“Well,” he said to Aidan. “Terrible, is it not?”

The girl nodded dolefully. “Scarcely comparable to the sweet love tunes you have composed of late.”

“Indeed.” Sontoral's tone darkened. He had admitted more than once that his time at Tronwall had inspired his music as never before. The music, but not the poetry. He'd been able to make no rhyme or reason of these two months.

“That is why I asked you to come riding with me alone,” he said. “I have had enough of idle composition for a while. I feel it is time we returned to our true lives and real obligations.”

Aidan sighed; she had expected this, felt it coming for days. “Have you forgotten, brother, that we made a pledge?”

“Aye, a pledge to oppose the invasion of this land, if there be such an invasion—of which I am still not convinced. But even if the threat is real, I don't see how we could be much help. I have no talent for sorcery and little enough for bearing arms. And you admit the spirit-circles and rituals leave you feeling as inept as I.”

“That is true.” Aidan's eyes were downcast, staring at the rushing water. “Except for the night we arrived, when the spirits chose me as their voice. I often wonder why they selected me, unless it was to convince us that we ought to stay, that despite appearances we truly are needed.”

“We are needed at home,” Sontoral said, “to keep the idea of freedom alive in Wales.”

“That is endless toil,” she murmured, “and weary. Don't you feel disheartened by it, Sontoral? The ceaseless scheming and arguing, never enough support to raise a true army, never enough hope to rally the people.”

The harper's gaze narrowed. “Our day will come.”

“Perhaps ... But I have been happy here, with these friends. Despite the threat that hangs over us, there have been moments of pure joy such as I've never known since childhood. Even if we destroyed the bridge tomorrow, even if the bridge proved to be nothing but an illusion, I am not yet ready to leave this place.”

She gazed at him with moist eyes, her chin set firm with determination. Sontoral shook his head glumly.

“Sweet sister, you have had little enough joy in your life, I know. And I would not force you to leave against your will. But a yearning is in me to be back at home, working to free our people. This unending idleness gnaws me.”

Aidan reached across to lay her hand on his. “Valin says he is nearly ready to lay our strategy. Be patient a while longer, for my sake.”

Farrel rolled over in his sleep and reached out an arm for Kerrawyn. The arm flopped down on the bed, bringing him awake. The sheet was still warm and he could smell the scent of her hair on the pillow. Farrel glanced at the window. No daylight yet slanted through the wooden shutters, but the buzz of late-summer insects told him morning was near.

Farrel had woken several times of late to find Kerrawyn gone from his bed—gone to help Valin summon spirits. As the summer wore on, the druid had become more and more concerned. The nature spirits had not delivered their promised reports about the bridge and the invasion from Balor. Meanwhile, by all indications, the time for planning was growing dangerously short. To reestablish communication with the spirits, Valin had taken to weaving midnight spells. Sometimes Kerrawyn, prodded by an inner voice, rose from her sleep to go and help him. So far, their joint conjurings had gathered little new knowledge of the Balorians—at least, little that they were willing to share with Farrel and the others.

Scowling at the shadow of jealousy that darkened his mind, Farrel reached for his linen dressing gown and pulled it on over his head. It was not that Kerrawyn seemed amorously attracted to the druid, or any less passionate in her love for Farrel. But there was something subtly rankling in her admiration for Valin, her respect for his talents and leadership, his knowledge of the spirit realms.

Besides, excluding the others from the spirit-calling was beginning to erode the group's sense of purpose and commitment. Farrel had noticed this lately—in Sontoral most strongly, but also in Aidan and Glenna. Farrel got out of bed and put on his sheepskin slippers. Valin had never specifically told the rest of the group not to join in the conjuring. And if supernatural beings were visiting his house, Farrel ought to know of it first hand.

He strode into the corridor and descended the stairs. Crossing to the far end of the main hall, away from the pallets where his servants slept, he approached his study. At the door he hesitated, listening to a voice within—an unknown voice with a high, humming tone. Frowning with resolve, Farrel knocked twice, lifted the iron handle and pushed the door open.

Looking into the chamber he stiffened, his grip tightening on the door handle. Three braziers flamed in the study, madly casting light and wavering shadows over the walls. Inside the triangle of fires, Valin sat cross-legged on an ebony table. The druid was naked, his face and torso painted with dark green, glistening streaks. Likewise nude and painted, Kerrawyn sat on the rug across from Valin.

Between them, a doll-sized creature fluttered in the air on dragonfly wings. The creature resembled a giant dragonfly, but with the upper torso, arms and head of a human male. It hovered within a green aura only slightly dimmer than the brilliant, iridescent green of its body.

The creature stared at Farrel. “An intruder,” it announced in it's high, droning voice. “I depart.”

“No! Stay!” Valin shouted.

The creature's image flickered, like a candle-flame blown by a gust.

“Farrel.” Kerrawyn was on her feet, calling to him softly as she crossed the chamber. “Come in and shut the door. Be silent lest you break the spell.”

Tugging his sleeve, she guided him into the study. Farrel's gaze remained fixed on the dragonfly creature, whose green aura quivered, then gradually resumed its steady gleam. Kerrawyn stopped at a side table and instructed Farrel to remove his dressing gown and slippers. As he numbly obeyed, she dabbed her fingers into a stone bowl containing the pasty, dark green paint. When he was naked, she smeared lines above and below his eyes, then painted broader streaks across his chest.

The paint had a tangy, dizzying aroma that burned pleasantly in Farrel's sinuses. The insect-creature suddenly looked larger; the hum of its wings sounded more distinct. Farrel followed Kerrawyn past a brazier and obediantly sat down on the rug beside her.

“This one is a friend,” she said to their glowing visitor. “Pray continue with your message.”

“Message,” it repeated. “Yes ... I carry a message from the King of the Dragonflies, to Lorcan the Druid, Who Speaks Many Tongues. This we have seen of the folk of Balor ... Have I told of the multitudes of wizards and soldiers they have gathered in their island realm bordering this world, of their pavillions without number that line the shore of the molten sea?”

“This you have told,” Valin affirmed.

“Then have I told of the wizards' spells, which daily brighten the arc of blue, that bridge which spans the gulf between the worlds?”

“This also you have told.”

“Then have I told of Porteas, the high king, general of the Balorian host?”

“You have only begun to tell of him,” Valin said. “It was here your discourse was interrupted.”

“Porteas is wizard and warrior both, the leader and instigator of the invasion. His blood is only half-Balorian. His father was a prince of the Gaels, seduced by a Balorian princess hundreds of years ago. For such are the disparate courses of time in the two worlds, that Porteas is at present a man in his prime, while his father's sons in this world are generations dead.”

“If his heritage is part human,” Kerrawyn asked, “why does he seek the destruction of our land?”

“Of this we can only guess,” the messenger answered. “We have no access to Porteas' thoughts, though some of us have overheard what is whispered of him in the ranks and pavillions of his army. He is a champion among the kings of Balor, victor of numerous battles and single combats. Conquest for conquest's sake could presumably be his aim.”

“Single combats,” Valin repeated. “Is this a martial custom among the shadow folk?”

The messenger paused for a moment, as though referencing the answer in some incomprehensible tome. “It has not been, until recently. It is said that Porteas initiated the curent fashion of single combat between the leaders of two opposing armies, in immitation of the custom among his father's race.”

“Most intriguing,” Valin said. “Perhaps he could be convinced to meet a champion of Earth in such a combat.”

“A reasonable supposition,” the winged creature replied. “There is nothing more to report.”

“Most ably reported and most useful,” Valin said. “Convey our gratitude to your king and your people.”

“My king sends his compliments. My people are ready to help in any way we can. Well we realize that your battle is for the sake of all. Farewell.”

The messenger dipped in the air and darted off. With a swishing sound it disappeared, just before colliding with the study wall.

Valin let out a weary sigh and lay back, an arm covering his eyes, his bare legs dangling over the table's edge. Kerrawyn stood, picked up a brass lid and began to snuff out the braziers. White daylight gleamed at the cracks of the shuttered windows.

“I am sorry about disturbing the spell,” Farrel muttered. “You never said we should not ...”

“No harm was done. This time.” Valin sat up, his face wan and sunken-eyed beneath the smears of green. “But for the future, it would be better if you left this work to Kerrawyn and me.”

“Is that really necessary?” Farrel stood, unwilling to back down. “Can't you see this is causing division in the group?”

“We cannot worry about that now,” Valin answered. “The Balorians know of us and of our alliance with the spirit folk. Their wizards raise disturbances that interfere with our usual channels of communication. To contact the spirits at all, I must resort to these complex rituals. And Kerrawyn is the only one whose heart is open enough that she can be a help instead of a hindrance. Do you understand?”

“I suppose so,” Farrel grunted. “But I tell you, Valin, the group is starting to drift apart. Sontoral especially is restless. How must longer must we wait?”

Kerrawyn laid a hand on Farrel's neck. “We must summon a few more spirits who may have gained knowledge of the Balorians. When that is done we will tell the group what we have learned, and together we will decide upon a plan. You must trust us for a while longer, my love.”

She stood on her toes to kiss his cheek. Farrel smiled grimly at her painted face. He rubbed a finger over her forehead in a vain attempt to wipe it clean.

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About the author

CorbinJay

Bio: Wandering scribe washed ashore in this strange and wondrous land.
Published in other places under the name "Jack Massa."

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