Chapter Two Hundred and Seventy-six
Doing something different
“You know, that’s okay,” Jill said to the burly Viking standing in front of her. Worn out, she decided to try something she hadn’t tried before. “You can take him.”
The boy scowled at her. The men grumbled and looked terrifying. Jill noticed that she was wearing a plain, thin wool dress that fell to ground. She felt like she was a novitiate at a convent.
“I can always have another son,” Jill said.
She gave the boy a wave and turned to walk up the hill. A tall soldier grabbed her around the waist. He lifted her from where she stood and carried her to a tall man wearing dark robes. The moment he set her down, she started walking away from the scene.
“You have sinned,” the man in dark robes screamed.
“Yes, father,” Jill said. Having dealt with more than her fair share of these monk-like men in this never-ending nightmare dream, Jill decided to turn the tables on him. “I’m going home right now to resolve my sinning ways. Please tell me what I can do.”
“Do?” the man asked.
“To make amends?” Jill asked.
The man in the robes seemed confused. Like a shadow cast by hand puppets, the man could only mimic a historical script. Jill had stumped him.
“How about if I fast for a month and pray the rosary a hundred times a day?” Jill suggested.
With a nod, she walked around the man and kept walking toward a fort up on the hill. She had gone about a hundred feet when she noticed the seven-year-old boy was walking with her.
“You weren’t supposed to do that,” the boy said.
“Why not?” Jill asked.
“Because that’s not what happened,” the boy said.
“We’ve been stuck in the same situation over and over again,” Jill said.
She held out her hand, and he slipped his small, cold hand in hers. They walked for a few minutes until they reached a granite boulder. Jill gingerly set herself down on the rock and pulled the boy to her. He didn’t resist, so she held him while she rested.
“Why don’t you tell me what happened while I rest?” Jill said in a low intimate voice.
“What happened?” The boy looked at her.
“When you were taken from your mother,” Jill said. “You don’t have to show me. You can just tell me what happened.”
The boy leaned into her. Jill looked out onto the lovely seaside and held him close. After a few minutes, he shifted away from her.
“I’m sure,” Jill said. “You can always show me if I don’t get it.”
“I don’t know where to start,” the boy said.
“At the beginning,” Jill said.
The boy nodded, and Jill settled in for a long story.
Rodney sat between Honey and Miss T. near the wall of the safe bubble. While his eyes were shut, his mind focused on the philosopher’s question:
Why do two armies fight day in and day out when neither army is able to win or lose?
He hoped that discovering the reason would help him stop the war before Valerie and Jacob were injured or killed. He’d almost given up when a thought popped into his mind. He looked up at Delphie, who was walking around the outside of their circle around Jill. She smiled at him.
“Do you mind if I ask Abi something?” Rodney asked.
“Go ahead,” Delphie said.
“Why did this war start?” Rodney asked.
“Start?” Abi looked confused. “I don’t know. Mari?”
Mari shook her head.
“You don’t remember?” Rodney asked.
“I doubt we were alive then,” Abi said. “Mari and I aren’t very old, certainly not compared to Gilfand. Even Edie is a hundred human years older than we are.”
“The war started a long time before we were born,” Mari said.
“The story says that the war started because the prince defiled the daughter of a neighboring kingdom,” Sam said.
“What story?” Rodney looked confused.
“The Kingdom of Marle?” Tanesha said. “Mom used to read it to me. It was one of Ne Ne’s books.”
“Good Lord.” Rodney rubbed his hand over his face and pulled it over his tight haircut. “Of course. Ne Ne’s books.”
“Of course?” Tanesha asked.
Every eye was on him. He shrugged as if he couldn’t explain what he meant.
“Remind me,” Rodney said. “It’s been a long while since I sat with my baby reading one of Ne Ne’s books.”
“The fairies say they drew clues in the pictures in the hopes that someone would use them to set things right,” Sam said.
“Lots of fairies drew pictures in the book,” Mari said. She nodded, and added, “My mother’s a librarian.”
“We grew up with the book too,” Abi said.
“The pictures in Ne Ne’s book are different from Jill’s book,” Tanesha said.
“We used the pictures,” Sam said. “Jake and I. That’s how we knew that the queen was torn into pieces. The pictures in the book helped us find the burial locations.”
“The pictures in the book?” Rodney asked. “Goodness, I don’t know if I ever looked at them.”
“Doesn’t the story include some bit about a prince defiling someone from the other kingdom?” Rodney asked.
“Right,” Tanesha said.
“The fairies out there are fighting Christian crusaders.” Rodney looked at the fairies. “Is that right?”
The fairies nodded.
“And the Celts are involved in some way,” Rodney said.
“That’s right,” Mari said.
“What are you getting at, Dad?” Tanesha asked.
“I can’t figure out the timeline,” Rodney said. “According to everything you told me, we are dealing with THE Queen Fand and THE Manannán. Correct?”
“That’s right,” Delphie said.
“Manannán is believed to be the original ruler of the Isle of Man,” Rodney said. “That put him at something like 6000 BC. But the Celts, they weren’t around until much later. Patrick and this Kirk Maughold came around 300 AD and 600 AD.”
“The boy on Jill’s lap is Manannán’s grandson or great grandson, Kirk Maughold,” Sandy said. “The man who defiled the neighboring kingdom’s daughter hanged himself after killing his son. And the queen of Marle . . .
“In the book,” Rodney nodded.
“There’s a picture of people who look . . .” Abi nodded.
“They look like us,” Rodney said.
“Like her,” Mari said and pointed to Jill.
“And her daughter, Katy,” Abi said. “The queen is very fond of Katy.”
“Do you know anything more than what’s in the book?” Rodney asked Abi and Mari.
Abi and Mari shook their heads.
“How is that possible?” Tanesha asked.
“They are the fairy corps,” James said. “Like your Marine Corps. They do what they’re told to do.”
“You know this story too?” Rodney asked.
“Don’t you find it strange that we would all know this book?” Rodney asked.
“I thought so too.” Sam nodded.
“It’s got to be a clue to what’s going on,” Rodney asked. “Jill has a bunch of siblings, right?”
“Four,” Sandy said.
“They’re a couple of years apart?” Rodney asked.
“Sure,” Tanesha said. “Why?”
Rodney raised his index finger to her and turned to the fairies.
“Can fairies have children every couple of years?” Rodney asked.
Abi shook her head.
“And Queen Fand? What do you know about Queen Fand’s children?” Rodney asked.
“Queen Fand and Manannán have five children,” Mari said.
“Their youngest child was born in the time you’re talking about,” Abi said. “Around 200 or 300 AD.”
“And the second son?” Sandy asked.
“The book says he was the second son,” Tanesha said.
“He’s the youngest,” Mari said, and Abi nodded.
“Fairies live on a different timeline than humans,” James said. “It’s in my mother’s books. They can’t have children until they’re some three hundred years old, and they can’t have children back to back like humans. It takes a hundred years or more.”
“Edie just reached the age to pick a mate,” Mari said. She and Abi looked at James and giggled.
“So we have Celts, Christians, fairies, a war …” Delphie looked at Rodney for a moment before turning to the fairies. “What do you know about King Arthur and his advisor Merlin?”
“The Celtic king?” Mari asked.
“Merlin, the last of the druids?” Abi asked.
“Yes,” Rodney nodded. “That’s exactly it. Yes”
“We only know what we were told,” Abi said.
“Which was?” Tanesha pressed.
Abi looked at Tanesha and then looked down.
“Merlin, the druid monk, came to the island to find a queen for his king,” Abi said in a singsong voice, as if she was repeating something she’d memorized as a child. “He asked Queen Fand for a fairy to bring his king luck. Queen Fand chose a young woman, fair in face and personality. She went with the druid to marry the king.”
“But when it came time for a child . . .” Mari said.
“She was too young.” Delphie nodded. “They must have been furious.”
“They stole Queen Fand’s son because they said she betrayed them.” Abi nodded.
“The ‘daughter of the other kingdom,’ the one who was defiled, was a fairy named Guinevere?” Rodney said.
“How did you know?” Mari asked.
“She’s ‘defiled’ because she can’t have a child,” Delphie nodded.
“But really she was just too young,” Abi said. “She had children long after Arthur was gone.”
“Arthur’s son was actually Queen Fand’s child,” Rodney said.
“Stolen,” Abi said.
Rodney shook his head.
“What is it?” Delphie asked.
“It’s crazy but . . .” Rodney said. “It’s got to be true.”
“What has to be true, Dad?” Tanesha asked.
“The child on Jill’s lap is Queen Fand’s son,” Rodney said.
“And the son of Arthur by way of Merlin,” Delphie said. “Yes, that’s the truth.”
They turned to gawk at the boy.
“Is that possible?” James asked.
“I don’t see why not,” Rodney said.
“This boy is the missing prince they are fighting over?” James asked.
“Not the grandson?” Sandy asked.
“It makes sense,” Rodney said. “Those armies out there, they don’t know that time has passed. Neither does the boy.”
“But he’s just a boy,” Heather said. “Just a kid.”
“He’s the son of the queen of the fairies,” James said. “Even as a half-human, he’d be powerful. And who knows? Maybe he’s a lot more fairy than human.”
“We’re caught in some kind of spell,” Rodney said. “We read the book.”
“That’s our incantation.” Delphie nodded.
“The child is creating all of this,” Rodney said. “He is stuck at seven-years-old, even though his body went on to live a full life with Arthur and Guinevere and later became a monk here on the Isle of Man.”
“His stuck-ness is killing him,” Blane said.
“Exactly,” Rodney said.
“We have to let Jake and Val know that the boy is here,” Sam said.
“How do we stop the war?” Heather asked.
Sam went to the edge of the safe bubble and looked out at the battle.
“I know just the thing,” Honey said. “I need some help, maybe Mari’s help, but I bet I can get their attention.”
“Do it,” Delphie said.
“Ok. Honey wheeled to the edge of the white quartz stairwell leading into the catacombs. “Rodney?”
Rodney got up to help her down the stairs.
“You can go too,” Sam said to Tanesha. “Mari? James?”
Tanesha, James, and the fairy got up and followed them into the catacombs. Sam settled back.
“In the meantime, we help Jill,” Sandy said with determination in her voice.
“She needs our help,” Blane said. “She’s very weak.”
They became quiet and started praying for Jill and the boy in her lap. After a while, Tanesha came to get Heather and Sandy. They gave Paddie and Katy to Sam and Delphie and went with her. They returned in full metal armor. Rodney, James, and Mari came behind them.
“Time to go,” Rodney said.
Heather gave Blane a tight hug and followed Sandy to another edge of the bubble.
“Abi?” Rodney asked.
A door appeared and Rodney, James, Sandy, Heather, and Tanesha entered the battle.
Jill’s heart pounded with indignant rage. She touched the boy’s shoulder and he threw himself at her. She held him tight while he sobbed in her arms. While he cried, she stroked his hair and tried to send him her healing capacity. She was glad he couldn’t see her face, because she was too angry to hide her feelings.
She had no idea how to fix this. She didn’t have a clue as to how to make this better for him or for anyone involved. She just knew that this little boy needed her love.
She cursed herself for healing his mother.
She cursed herself for helping his father.
She should have let them rot.
She bit her lip and tried to repeat what Delphie always told her when she was angry — “Everything happens for a reason.”
Reason had nothing to do with this.
She tried to calm herself by thinking of her friends. What would they say?
Tanesha would say something sassy like “That’s some real bull-shit.” and she’d plot some revenge.
Sandy would comfort the child and tell everyone that she was sure “They were doing their best.” In private, she would cry for the child and a world who would let him suffer so very much.
And Heather. Oh, Heather would sigh. She’d nod and ask Jill what she wanted to do.
But Jill didn’t know what to do. She remembered the last time she’d felt this kind of indignant rage. She’d just heard that Trevor was telling everyone that her beloved Katy was an “oops baby” and Jill was a “baby momma.” Jill scowled. Megan had told her to let it go; there was nothing she could do. But going to Trevor’s stupid engagement party had led her to this moment. If she hadn’t gone, she wouldn’t have started dating Jacob and . . .
Jill shook her head.
If she hadn’t gone to that engagement party, everything would have stayed the same. She would have pined for Trevor, felt helpless and abused.
But because she went to the engagement party, she’d had this amazing life with Jacob. It hadn’t been easy, that’s for sure. But everything was really good.
If she’d never gone to Trevor’s stupid engagement party . . .
Jill knew what she had to do. She heard someone moving behind her. She turned to look up the hill. A woman who looked just like Tanesha walked toward them. The woman wore metal armor and carried a heavy sword. Jill was so surprised to see her that she almost didn’t notice another woman had appeared.
“Sandy?” Jill exhaled.
Her best friend was standing next to her. Sandy was also wearing metal armor. Her eyes sparkled and she winked. But Jill’s best friend Sandy couldn’t wink. When she tried, she blinked both eyes at the same time instead of just one. The Tanesha look-alike took out her sword and raised it to her forehead in a kind of bow to Jill. She sheathed the sword and nodded to someone on Jill’s left side. Jill looked over to see Heather. As if to say, we are with you, the Heather-look-alike nodded to Jill.
“How . . .” Jill started. “Did you . . .?”
“You needed your own army,” the boy said.
Jill smiled and the boy blushed.
“Are you ready?” Jill asked.
The boy nodded.
“Take us to the war,” Jill said. “We’re going to sort this out once and for all.”
Jacob pushed a man away from him and stepped forward. Fighting next to Valerie, he felt oddly exhilarated and alive. They were fighting near the center of the battlefield, next to Prince Finegal, and in front of Queen Fand and Manannán. He’d never admit it, but they were having a great time slashing their way through the attacking army. He didn’t think of them as people with families and lives. They were just “the attackers.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Heather, Sandy, Tanesha, Rodney, and James, all wearing full armor, slip out of the protective bubble. They stood to the side for a moment before lighting what looked like a giant sparkler. The soldiers around them stopped fighting to watch. Once they had one lit, they moved to another area to light another.
He felt more than saw movement in a corner of the battlefield. He turned to see armored copies of Heather, Tanesha, and Sandy. He looked back at the people lighting the sparklers and then back at the slow-moving group of women coming onto the battlefield.
And then he saw Jill.
“Jill?” Jacob said in a low tone.
He closed and opened his eyes to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. Jill was right there. She was wearing a rough, thin wool dress that dragged along the battlefield. Her dark hair was up in a simple bun. She carried a young boy in her arms. Her head was high as she walked toward the queen. Heather and Sandy walked beside Jill and Tanesha walked behind her. When anyone got too close, the girlfriends dispatched them with great ease.
“Jill?” Jacob said again.
“Jake! Watch out!”
Valerie yelled a second before a crusader’s blade swept toward his skull. Before Jacob could jump out of the way, the sword clipped his chin. He wielded his sword with unpracticed ease and dispatched the ghost crusader. He wiped the blood from his chin and looked for Jill.
From his right, he saw Prince Finegal ride directly toward Jill.
“Kill her!” Prince Finegal yelled. “She’s stolen the prince!”
“Val! With me!” Jacob yelled, and ran to catch up.
When he got to Jill, Prince Finegal pointed his sword toward her throat. Jill gave the Prince a bored look and kept walking.
“Stand where you are!” Prince Finegal yelled.
Jill took another step and Prince Fin’s sword came at her. Jacob caught his sword with his own a second before the blade pierced Jill. The gladiator Heather and Tanesha moved between the prince and Jill.
“What are you doing, brother?” Prince Finegal yelled.
“This is my wife!” Jacob said. “This is Jill.”
“The wench has stolen my brother,” Prince Finegal yelled.
The armies came to a standstill. An unnerving silence fell over the battlefield.
“She will pay!” Prince Finegal yelled.
The fairy army cheered. Jacob looked around to find the fairy army staring at Jill, the girlfriends, and the small child she held in her arms. He pushed past armored Tanesha to Jill.
“Jill,” Jacob said.
Jill turned to look at him. Her face was flushed red and marked with her anger.
“What’s going on?” Jacob asked.
“I’m here to speak with his mother,” Jill said. She shook her head at him. “You will rue the day you helped to heal these evil creatures.”
“What in the name of Hades is she talking about?” Prince Finegal jumped from his horse and tried to charge Jill. He ran into the girlfriends.
“Jill, honey?” Jacob asked. “What’s going on?”
“Why don’t you ask them?” Jill was so angry that she spat on him. “They threw away this son and . . .”
“How dare you?” Prince Finegal said. “Who are you to accuse the queen?”
“Jill doesn’t lie,” Valerie put her hand on his shoulder. “If she says this happened, then it did.”
“What?” Prince Finegal asked. “They did what?”
“You don’t know?” Jill asked. “They gave the boy to the Christians. The Christians have tortured him for centuries and. . .”
“They did what?” Prince Fin’s face was so similar to Jacob’s that Jill knew he was getting angry.
“He’s just a little boy,” Jill said.
“Mother!” Prince Finegal yelled. “We require your counsel. Here. Right now. Father. You too. Now.”
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