Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Two Hundred and Seventy-Four : Same old war

Chapter Two Hundred and Seventy-four

Same old war

At the sound of Manannán’s voice, the group arrived in the meadow next to the white quartz cross that led to the underground entrance of the church. The host of spirit-soldiers surrounded them as they woke from Jacob’s time freeze. The soldiers steadied themselves and looked around.

“Kirk Maughold, by grandfather’s rights, I call thee here,” Manannán called again.

“Steady men,” Prince Finegal said. “Steady. We’ve seen this before.”

A cold wind blew through the meadow. The rain turned cold and bitter.

“Brother!” Prince Finegal yelled to Jacob. “You must gird yourself to join us. And you too, Valerie!”

“What?” Jacob asked.

Prince Finegal snapped his fingers, and Jacob was wearing shining metal armor. Jacob pulled out the sword on his belt.

“Now, there’s a sword!” Jacob said. “Val?”

Valerie was wearing a full suit of armor. She tied her long hair in a knot and pulled on a metal helmet. She raised her sword and nodded to Jacob.

“Get your people to safety!” Prince Finegal yelled to Jacob.

Jacob and Valerie walked Jill and Delphie to a quiet corner next to the trees. Edie built a power field around them to make them unnoticeable and to protect them from the battle.

“Gilfand!” Prince Finegal yelled.

“We are ready, my lord,” Gilfand said.

More than a thousand gargoyles appeared in the clearing. They were wearing a kind of scaly battle armor and each carried a spear and a long, thin blade.

“Aunt!” Prince Finegal yelled.

“We are here!” Liban replied.

Led by Liban, a host of female fairy warriors carrying bows and arrows joined the army. Edie shrank to her tiny size when the fairy corps appeared among the spirit-army and fairy army.

“We are ready,” Queen Fand said. As she turned, her wet formal gown turned to armor and a muslin tunic. A leather cap appeared on her head, and a long bow appeared in her hand.

“Father!” Prince Finegal yelled over the increasing wind. “You must suit up!”

“What?” Manannán turned to look at Prince Fin.

Jacob and Prince Finegal raised their hands at the same time, and armor covered the great Manannán. He gave them a nod in thanks.

The Army of Maughold appeared without warning. The Maughold cavalry crashed into the spirit-army. Ten times louder than a car crash, the noise was unbearable. Men and horse screamed with rage and the sheer joy of battle. Jacob and Prince Finegal fought on foot near Manannán. The gargoyles fought from the sky while the fairy archers shot countless arrows.

The Army of Maughold continued to appear. Driven by the fervor of their beliefs, the Army of Maughold was fearsome and horrifying. Jill and Delphie stood in their protective bubble as war raged around them. They lost track of Jacob, only to occasionally spot him wielding the sword like a hockey stick next to Prince Finegal.

The spirit-army fought against an unholy foe. The immortal fairies battled on against the magic and faith that protected the Army of Maughold. An arrow would pierce the heart and armor of a soldier from Maughold. He would fall to the ground, jerk the arrow out, and clamber to his feet. The spirit-army didn’t bother with pretense. As if they were badges of honor, they let the arrows collect on their bodies.

Neither army could falter because neither army could die.

Jill sat down among the roots of a tree and leaned against the trunk. They were going to be there a while.

~~~~~~~~

Somewhere below them, there was a mighty crash of metal and flesh. The sound of men screaming in rage drifted on the wind through the fog. Katy grabbed onto Paddie and started to cry. The adults instinctively peered into the fog and moved closer to each other.

The fog had grown dark and as still as death while a terrible battle waged just below the surface. They heard a man’s voice scream something.

“Daddy!” Katy yelled at the same time Sam said exhaled, “Jake.”

Sam felt like he had been punched in the gut. His son was fighting for his life while he lingered in this foggy prison. He would have screamed with rage, but he was afraid of upsetting Katy and Paddie. James was moving along the edge of the circle like a pent-up animal. Sam looked at Jill’s friends. Sandy was biting her lip while Heather was staring at the children. Tanesha seemed to be making a plan.

“What?” he said to Tanesha.

“Just something . . .” Tanesha’s voice was vague. “My mom loves weird stories. I always thought she was crazy, but she told me . . .”

Tanesha looked at James’s back and said, “ . . .about the spirit army. James?”

He turned around to look at her.

“Spirit army?” he asked.

“Something about long unresolved problems are like . . .”

“Spirit armies fighting in the fog.” James nodded. “Yes, I know this one too. They can never die, never be injured in any way . . .”

“So they fight on forever.” Tanesha glanced at her friends.

“Never resolving anything,” James said. “They fight for the sport of it, the joy of the contest, but should a human get involved, they . . .”

“Will surely die,” Tanesha said. “‘Choose the battles you engage in, Tannie,’ my mother would always say. ‘Make sure the people fighting aren’t just playing war for fun or profit. You will be the one who loses.’”

“As long as they can fight, as long as they can vent their rage, they have no real reason to resolve anything,” James nodded. “Worlds will rise and fall, and they will continue fighting.”

“Make sure you don’t die fighting in someone else’s war.” Tanesha bent down to Katy and Paddie. “Katy?”

Not letting go of Paddie, Katy turned her head to look at Tanesha.

“Do you think you could call that little kid to you?” Tanesha said. “You know, uh . . .”

She looked up to see if anyone remembered the kid’s name.

“Kirk,” James said. “Can you call Kirk to you?”

“I don’t know,” Katy said. “Why?”

“Because your father and Auntie Valerie are down there fighting.” Sandy dropped to her knees to be Katy’s height. “They can get hurt, but the other guys won’t.”

“That’s not fair!” Paddie said, and Katy scowled. She stepped away from Paddie and wrapped her arms around herself in a protective hug.

“No. It’s not,” Sam said.

“I was thinking . . .” Tanesha said. Katy looked at her. “I was thinking that we could help by talking to Kirk.”

“Kirk needs Mommy’s cuddles.” Katy nodded. “That’s why people want to steal them. They don’t want the wars to end.”

As if in thought, Paddie tilted his head. Sam groaned internally. He knew that when they made it back, Paddie was going to talk to his army medic father and army general grandfather about this war. He already knew that Katy had convinced General Hargreaves that Paddie would not be a soldier. He knew that he was going to have another conversation with General Hargreaves about Katy’s influence on Paddie.

“Everybody needs your mommy’s cuddles,” Paddie said. “I do.”

“How do we get Kirk to go to my mommy?” Katy scowled.

“Maybe you can tell your mommy to look for him,” Heather suggested.

“I think I have to go to Mommy.” Katy nodded.

“Don’t go without me,” Paddie said.

“NO!” Sam said. “Don’t . . .”

Katy and Paddie disappeared.

“ . . .go,” Sam said.

Sandy, Tanesha, and Heather all gasped.

“Agh!” James screamed.

“No, no.” Sam put his hands on James’s shoulders. “Don’t give up, son. We are here for a reason. Jake, Valerie, Jill, Katy, and Paddie need our help in some way, or we would . . .”

“ . . . be dead,” Heather said.

The rest of the adults nodded.

“We are here because of fairy magic,” Sam said. “The fairies need something from us.”

“What do they need us for?” Tanesha asked. “They have everything, and magic too.”

“No idea,” Sam said.

“What if . . .” Sandy stood up. She looked into the fog for a moment and then shook her head, “Can’t be . . .”

“What can’t be?” Tanesha asked.

“Well, I was thinking . . . I mean, this whole thing reminds me of my father . . . not Seth, but . . . well, you know,” Sandy said.

The women nodded.

“I don’t,” James said.

“Sandy had really abusive parents,” Heather said.

“How abusive?” James asked. “Because I was just thinking about my dad.”

“A lot worse than your father,” Sam said.

“You know?” Sandy’s eyes went big and she flushed bright red. Nodding, Sam winced.

“Why did it remind you of your father?” Heather asked James as Tanesha hugged Sandy.

“We were just kids,” James said. “There was a bunch of us, but Johnny and me, we were just a little more than a year apart in age. We did everything together. My dad was sure we were spies for the prods, you know, Protestants. When he was drinking, he’d get so whipped up in a rage that he almost had us convinced that we were traitors.”

“You believed him because he’s your father.” Sandy’s voice was flat. She stepped back from Heather.

“And because he believed it so strongly,” James said. “Fuck’s sake, I joined MI-6. Now I actually am a traitor, or that’s what Cian says.”

“So, what if we’re not in the fog?” Sandy asked. “What if we think we are because this Kirk Maughold, the fairy-human, made us think we are?”

“Like magic?” Sam asked.

“Sure,” Sandy said. “That would mean that . . .”

“The battle is happening above us,” James said.

“We’re still underground in the catacombs,” Tanesha said. “Shit.”

“What?” They turned to look at her.

“I wondered why I kept smelling mold,” Tanesha said.

“How do we get out?” Sam asked.

“You have to believe you’re not in the fog,” Sandy said.

“It looks foggy,” Heather said.

“Close your eyes,” Sandy said. Heather, Tanesha, and Sam closed their eyes. “Now listen. Where are we?”

“Oh shit,” James said. “We’re still in the catacombs.”

“We are,” Sandy said. “I wasn’t here before. We appeared with Jill . . . but . . .”

As if waking from a dream, Heather opened her eyes to see the catacombs around them.

“This place is kind of gross,” Heather said.

She touched Tanesha’s arm and Tanesha opened her eyes.

“Wow,” Tanesha said. “That’s a mind twist.”

“Mind twist?” Heather asked.

“I’m trying not to swear so much,” Tanesha said. She touched Sam’s arm. “Sam?”

He opened his eyes and then looked crestfallen.

“What?” Sandy asked.

“I was hoping I was still in bed at home,” Sam said. “Damn. Are Katy and Paddie still down here too?”

James ran down the hallway with Sandy right behind him.

“Give me a boost,” Sandy said to James.

He boosted her up into the crypt, and she climbed over the body inside. He turned around and shook his head.

“You didn’t see them?” Sandy asked.

“No, they aren’t there,” James said.

Sandy lifted Katy onto her lap.

“They are both here,” Sandy leaned down to kiss Katy’s face. “She’s asleep — Paddie too — but they are definitely here.”

“What about the gas?” Sam asked. “That’s what drove us out of here.”

“Must have been something else we were made to believe,” James said.

A cold wind whipped through the tunnel, bringing the voices of men shouting with it. The battle continued to rage above them.

“Where is Jill?” Tanesha asked.

James’s eyes looked up. Horrified, the women looked up toward the ceiling.

“Let’s see if we can help the battle,” Sandy said. “If those armies have been fighting since the dawn of time, they know each other’s tricks. We need to change the battle to protect Jake and Val.”

“How do we do that?” Heather asked.

“We make bombs.” James bent over to look at the oil in the well along the crypt. “Even if they are spirits, a bomb will really break things up.”

“There’s sulfur over there.” Sam pointed.

“I have Charlie’s lighter,” Sandy said. She held out a bright orange lighter. She tossed it to James. “I took it from him just before we came here.”

“I’ll help you build,” Heather said. “Then stay with Sandy. You guys can set off the explosives. We’ll take care of the kids.”

“Good plan,” Sam said.

“This is gonna be fun.” Tanesha smiled. “But . . .”

“But?” Sam asked.

“Are we fighting someone else’s war?” Tanesha asked.

“No,” Sam said. “We’re fighting our war to save Jill and Jacob and Delphie and Valerie.”

“Our friends.” James nodded.

“Let’s get to work,” Heather said.

~~~~~~~~

“I have a very bad feeling about this,” Delphie said.

Jill looked up at her. Delphie moved to the edge of their protective bubble.

“It just seems like . . .” Delphie’s voice faded out.

“They’ve fought this war before?” Jill nodded.

“A billion times,” Delphie said. “Even though you healed the queen and her Manannán, they continue on . . .”

“They probably fought this battle for centuries before she was torn apart.” Jill shrugged. “She could have been torn apart to stop this from happening over and over again . . .”

“A cycle.” Delphie scowled and tried to sort through what cycle could make this battle happen. It wasn’t the moon. It wasn’t the sun. Delphie glanced down at Jill.

“Every time an heir to the Marle kingdom was born.” Jill nodded. “Probably.”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there when Katy was born,” Delphie said.

“That’s okay,” Jill said. “It would have been pretty weird if you were. Plus, my girls were there.”

“Not Trevor?”

“He had some drinking and whoring to do,” Jill said.

“Wouldn’t want a little thing like a baby being born to disrupt such important work.” Delphie smirked.

“Not for a girl,” Jill said.

Delphie snorted.

“I’ll tell you, though,” Jill said. “This is the weirdest labor I’ve ever heard about.”

Delphie laughed, and Jill smiled. They watched the armies fight for a while.

“I wonder if they did this when Val was having Jackie,” Jill said.

“The queen had been torn apart, and Manannán was walking,” Delphie said.

“Good thing I came all this way to heal them,” Jill said. “Wouldn’t want to miss the war.”

Delphie snorted a laugh.

“Why wouldn’t you want to miss a war?” A boy’s voice came from up in the tree.

Jill and Delphie looked up. A seven-year-old boy was sitting on a branch watching the battle. He wore a simple, hand-sewn tunic and a dark wool, knitted sweater. From the ground, they could see the deep, jagged scars on his legs. Delphie and Jill shared a look before Delphie smiled.

“I think she was making a joke,” Delphie said.

“Oh,” the boy said. “It’s not very funny.”

“We don’t have war where we are,” Jill said. “I mean, the world still has some wars, but it’s a lot less than any time before.”

“Why?” the boy asked.

“There were a few really horrible wars,” Delphie said.

“There are always a lot of horrible wars,” the boy said. “Human beings are evil. They create evil wherever they go.”

The little boy nodded and then shrugged.

“That’s what the monks say, anyway,” he said.

“I used to feel like you do.” Delphie nodded. “I felt the world’s pain and darkness, only pain, only darkness. No beauty, no light. But I found beauty, light, and love. Art, music, joy, laughter.”

“You’re an Oracle,” the boy said.

“I’m an Oracle,” Delphie said.

“Why?” the boy asked. “Did you take the devil into your womb?”

“I was born this way,” Delphie said. “Born knowing. No one really knows why. I’m kind of my own species, I guess.”

“Were your people like you?” the boy asked.

“I don’t know,” Delphie said. “I never knew my parents. I went to live with a very bad man when I was a little younger than you. He used my gift to trick people to gain money. I lived with him for a long, long time. Then my friend Celia found me. And everything changed.”

“How did everything change?” the boy asked.

“Because I was away from the darkness.” Delphie smiled at the boy. “I learned about light, knowledge, art, beauty, music . . . I have a friend who can pull music out of the air and play it on the piano. Beautiful music. Jill’s brother is a painter. He paints things that are so lovely they take your breath away. I get to read books and think about new things. I even get to travel. The darkness obscured all of that beauty for me.”

A warrior bounced off their protective bubble with a solid “wham.” Their heads turned toward the noise. A soldier on horseback screamed and hopped off his horse.

“Don’t worry,” the boy said. “They always do that. They’re going to roll over there. They hit each other for a while and then one of them stabs the other. After a while, they get up.”

“You’ve seen this very same war before,” Delphie said.

“Yes, Oracle,” the boy said.

One of the scars on the boy’s leg popped open. Blood began to stream down from the tree.

“Oh my goodness,” Jill said. “You’re bleeding.”

“It’s this war,” the boy said. “They say it’s my fault, and . . .”

“If you climb down, maybe Jill can help you,” Delphie said.

“How?” the boy asked.

“She’s from a family of healers,” Delphie said.

“Witches?” The boy pulled away in fear.

“No,” Delphie said. “Healers.”

“The only people who can do that are from somewhere on the continent,” the boy said.

“My mother is Russian,” Jill said.

Another vein opened as the boy climbed down the branches. His blood splashed the tree and the protective bubble.

“What’s it like to be Russian?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Jill said. “I grew up somewhere else.”

“Oh,” the boy said. “I was born somewhere else too.”

The boy climbed down another branch and was low enough for Delphie to reach up and pluck him from the tree. He was of such slight build that she could easily carry him.

“Are you going to heal me?” the boy asked.

“Are you ready to be healed?” Jill asked.

“Don’t you need water?” the boy asked.

“How did you know?” Jill gave him a bright smile.

“I watched you heal the queen and my grandfather,” the boy said.

Rather than make him upset by asking him to relive his connection to the war or the fairies, Jill smiled and said, “Water helps.”

“Oh,” the boy said. “There’s a spring right here.”

He snapped his fingers. There was a burble, and then another. A tiny spring began to run near the edge of their protective bubble. Delphie made a dirt basin for the water to collect. When there were a couple inches of water in the basin, Jill scooted over to sit in the water with her legs stretched out straight in front of her.

“Are you ready?” Jill asked.

“Does it hurt?” the boy asked.

“You can stop at any time.” Jill smiled. “My daughter and her friend call it cuddles. So it doesn’t hurt too much.”

The boy looked very frightened.

“You’re sure this isn’t devil magic?” the boy asked.

“I’m sure,” Jill said. “It’s Christ who heals, right?”

The boy scowled.

“Don’t your monks say that?” Jill asked.

“You’re not Christ,” the boy said.

“No, I’m not,” Jill said. “But I like to think his Father gave me this gift to help people.”

“Oh.” The boy’s head went up and down in a kind of a nod.

Delphie put her hands on his shoulders and guided him to Jill’s lap. He looked into Jill’s eyes.

“Come sit on my lap,” Jill said.

“You don’t have a lap,” the boy said.

Jill patted her legs. With Delphie’s help, the slight boy sat down. Jill put her arms around him and held him tight.

“Are you ready?” Jill whispered in his ear.

The boy nodded.

“Here we go,” Jill said.

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