by Ruth Davis Hays 2011
Boredom boils within the monastery walls. ‘Khiall’s newfound conspirators find that their chosen leader has knowledge beyond their adolescent dreams…
Their temptations fell farther from the light of goodness as Daviel found himself creeping along behind the strange and beautiful changeling several nights later.
‘Khiall led his five followers through the shadows of the monastery halls. Their destination was the garden wall. Among his various talents, ‘Khiall seemed to be particularly astute in herbalist class and had convinced the five acolytes that he could mix up a potent sleeping tea. He had warned Daviel not to drink the dinner tea, and he passed the word to their fellow conspirators.
The halls were, indeed, noticeably vacant and the snoring behind the cell doors audible and reassuring as they snuck along. Not sure what mischief ‘Khiall had in mind for them, Daviel knew that he didn’t care. He was there only because ‘Khiall had asked him to come.
They wore their baggy work clothes, as they had no other garments except for their sacred vestments and bathing robes. Their slippered feet whispered over the stone walkways.
As they came to the gated hall to the gardens and found it locked with a large iron padlock, Onath began to panic and wheeze uncontrollably, fearing their capture. ‘Khiall was quick to calm him with quiet words in the plump fellow’s ear. Then he clawed a small stiff wire from between two stones in the wall beside them that he had obviously planted there for this express purpose earlier.
With long, nimble fingers, ‘Khiall spun the wire and wiggled it deep within the mechanisms of the latch until the metal arm yielded to his will. He flashed a lopsided smile back at the other boys and opened the well-oiled gate. Their night of freedom was only a few yards away.
It was frustrating to watch the lithe fae crawl up the uneven rocks of the high wall with humiliating ease. Daviel scowled up at the grinning pale face as he had to shove and struggle to get the others to the top before scrambling up ungainly himself.
The breeze of winter sweeping over the unobstructed plains that surrounded the monastery was invigorating. Breathing heavily from his exertion, Daviel took in the crisp, chilling darkness that welcomed them as he looked across the landscape beyond the heavy bulwark. The winds were wild and unabated up here and they kicked up the dark tangles of ‘Khiall’s hair with abandon.
Daviel looked over at the striking fae as he stood silently triumphant, the moons’ glow lighting him with an eerie quality. He looked as if the winds would pick him up at any moment and carry him away from this place, leaving the other boys to suffer alone.
Gods below, Daviel thought, I want to shove him off this wall.
But he knew that would only happen so that he could catch the strange fae by the hand and save him from harm.
‘Khiall grinned at Daviel, as if he could read the boy’s thoughts. The changeling patted him on the back before leaping down into the dark grasses below with the grace of a panther.
On his other side, Daviel heard Onath quail with uncertainty as they all heard the fae land several marks below. The acolyte reassured the others that they could climb down and proceeded to show them. Slipping a bit at first, he bit down against the sting of the scrapes on his palms and cursed ‘Khiall for talking them into this.
The other four boys began their descent with more hesitancy and Onath tumbled halfway down. His startled cry threatened to bring the Blessed Fathers out of their drugged slumber, until Khiall caught the large boy with shocking ease and lowered him to his feet. With one finger pressed to his full lips, the fae reminded them to stay as silent as possible since not all within the walls had partaken of his mixture. One wink he spared before leading them far into the fields, heading to the woods on the eastern horizon.
None of them had any idea of where they were going. The further they got from the confinement of the monastery, the more giddy they felt and the brighter the moons shone on the pale grasses of the southern Verdaillian winter.
Daviel’s heart soared in his thin chest as they sprinted and wove into the edge of the trees, the high branches hiding their movements from the moons and the gods. Onath struggled up last, crumpling to his knees with exhausted wheezing and calls for them to take a short break. ‘Khiall relented and the boys flopped against the trunks as the indefatigable fae clawed his way to the top of one thin tree to look out over the land as he waited on the others.
Just as their hearts were slowing, ‘Khiall leapt down in their midst, startling Onath terribly. He then sprang further into the wood with a whispered call to follow him.
Daviel scrambled to his feet and ran after, whether the rest followed or not. He did not want to loose sight of their guide.
Another five minutes of rushed walking, and much falling on the part of the humans, and ‘Khiall came to light behind a group of large bushes that had lost almost all their leaves. The thick cobweb of branches hid them from their goal as he signaled for them to duck low and remain quiet. Slowly, they all caught up to him.
Daviel glanced at the smooth, waiting eyes as the fae watched a rippling, moonlit stream that was just beyond the underbrush. Onath murmured something about going down to get a well-deserved drink, but ‘Khiall’s swift hand pulled him back to the ground.
That was when they all heard it.
A song, gentle and light, drifting on the wind from just up the waterway. It was several, soft female voices mingling together in a glorious harmony that set their skin aglow with gooseflesh and their blood with fire.
The five young human males crept closer to listen to the sweet music which the fae had heard from the monastery walls. Then they saw luminous, svelte shapes of young women swimming along the stream with ease and grace, moving as part of the water themselves. The long tresses pressed against the immodestly bare skin, flowing away from them each time they dipped low only to span out like glowing, mesmerizing seaweed on the surface. The voices tugged at the young men’s hearts, but the boys’ inexperience and fear froze them to the spot.
“Are they elves?” Onath asked in harsh whisper, his attention riveted to the stream.
“Nymphaes?” Daviel looked to Khiall for confirmation.
“Not exactly,” he said so softly that it could have been the wind. “Naiades. Water spirits, but similar to nymphae. This is the last night that Unara will be full before the new year, so they swim the length of their river to its source as a cleansing and rebirth ritual.”
“What are we supposed to do?” another boy asked, his voice squeaking uncontrollably as he tried to tear his eyes from the heavenly sight of bathing females. The other boys glanced sheepishly at each other, all too aware of their own limitations suddenly.
‘Khiall looked them all in the eye and scowled. “Legend says that they are attracted to purity and beauty. Even if you aren’t pretty enough, you sure as hell are pure enough, aren’t you? You are all monks. Come now, how much more innocent can you get?”
It was painfully aware from their postures and shifting eyes that none were willing to dare the wild boundaries of the faery realm, so ‘Khiall snorted and cast one last glance at Daviel, as if to recruit him. When he met with resistance, the dark-haired, half-faerlin slid underneath the thick bush to skid down the embankment to the water’s edge.
A wayward branch grabbed his loose shirt as he went and tore it down the front, the roots and brambles spilling him out facing the lively water faeries with his finely chiseled torso exposed, as if he had planned it.
(to be continued)