Archive for the ‘Tapestries’ Category

Ben Cuil – the forging of Scatha

Posted: 18/05/2016 by Alternate Celt in Extracts, Tapestries, writing
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I got into a discussion on twitter about Scatha(ch) recently. Scathach was the warrior woman/goddess of the Tuatha de Dannan who trained Cuchalain in Scots/Irish mythology.  Many years ago I wrote some stories featuring Scatha as a character. I thought I’d lost the majority of them in a “catastrophic hard drive failure”, but I  found this today. In this, Scatha is a hidden child living in a prison/arena owned by the Lord of the Hunt.

She hid in the shadows, her back pressed hard against the rough stone of the cell, her eyes wide and her breathing shallow.  She mustn’t be seen by the guards, her life depended on it.  If they knew she existed……
The guard captain, with his ugly, pig like face and filthy yellow tusks protruding from his mouth, threw open the cell door, scattering the other inmates to the back wall where she hid.  Quickly she ducked down onto her haunches, hiding behind the skirts of the doughty Irish woman who had raised her in this horrible place.
“We’ve been hearing rumours again! Where is the Dannan Witch’s child?” the Guard Captain spat, shining his torch on the pale faces before him, “Give up the bloody child, or you’ll all be in the ring with Taireanach!”
“There is no such child!” The Irish woman exclaimed, even as she hid her from view, “Throw me to the Dragon if you wish, but you will never find this child you speak of!”
“Lies! She has been seen stealing food from the guards store!  I will only spare you the Dragon if you give her to me now!” The Guard Captain snarled, his face inches from the Irish woman’s face, his fetid breath filling the air so that the woman choked on it.
Hiding where she was, the girl felt a sudden rush of fear for her brave guardian.  The Irish woman had kept her hidden for so many years, and kept her as safe as she could be in the bowels of Ben Cuil, but she could not let her give up her life in such a way.  She took a deep breath, stood up and stepped around her guardian. 
She was a tall child, for her eleven years, and skinny.  Her ragged mop of black hair spilled to her shoulders, which were broad and bony and squared to meet her fate.  She stuck her strong chin up and stared the Guard captain right in the face with her bright  green eyes.  Beside her the Irish woman whispered a plea under her breath with a shaking voice.
“Please no, Scatha, please no.  They will kill you my child,”
“By the blood of my father and the grace of my mother, I will fight before ever I shall die,” the girl said defiantly. 
“At last!” the Captain crowed, looking her up and down and ignoring both the Irish woman’s pleas and the girls defiance, “The Lord will have some entertainment from you! Oh yes indeed,” her turned and signalled to the three brutish guards who were standing  in the doorway behind him, “Take her to the Circus cells.  She can be the highlight of the Lords Spring Feast!”
She stood proud as the guards clamped manacles on her wrists and dragged her from the cell.  Behind her she could hear the sobbing of her guardian, and she offered a silent prayer for her to Dana, the goddess of her mother’s people.

Ben Cuil, the mountain of blood.  After the Romans fled the British Isles, the Lord of the Dance went to war with the Fair Folk and their allies, the Celts and Picts of Alba, Eire and Albion.  With his powerful Wild Magic, his hoards of Beserkers and the aid of the Crone and her armies of ghosts and Undead creatures, it was not long before the Fair Folk and their allies were beaten and forced into servitude. 
Of course there were those who resisted, and when they were captured, they were brought to Ben Cuil.  The Lord had been a great admirer of the cruel ways of Roman Punishment, and he had hollowed out the Ben and turned it into the most extravagant Circus that had ever been seen.  He gathered a collection of creatures of great diversity and evil to pit against those who displeased him, from African Lions and Russian Bears to Wolves, Gorgons, Ogres and, of course,  the Dragon, Taireanach. All these fantastical creatures had been taken from the Otherworld beyond the world of men, that had once been the home of the Fair Folk, and was also the home of the Lord himself.
This was where the girl, Scatha, had been born, amid the torment and suffering of the Lord’s enemies.  Her mother had been a Maiden Priestess of Dana among the Fair Folk. She had been powerful in magic and had fought in battles against the Lord’s creatures, but had been captured and brought to Ben Cuil to fight.  Her father had been a warrior chieftain of  an Irish tribe who had been the sole survivor of his Clan after a battle against the Lord.  They had met and fallen in love in the gloom of Ben Cuil’s cells, a love that they had had to keep secret from the sadistic Captain of the Guard.  But secrets are hard to keep in Ben Cuil, for there is always some poisonous soul willing to sell another inmate out for a little favour.  Thus is happened that they were discovered, after Scatha’s mother had found herself pregnant.
The Captain of the Guard, whose taste for evil knows no bounds, pit them against each other in the ring, but they refused to fight.  He sent in wave after wave of his own guards, beasts and finally a mighty Minotaur to destroy them.  Scatha’s father fought them all off, to the very last one, to protect his beloved.  The Lord grew bored of the show and dismissed them from the ring, but not before Scatha’s father was mortally wounded.  He died hours later, and Scatha’s mother was heartbroken.  She lived long enough to give birth to her child and give her into the guardianship of an Irish woman who had been a cousin of Scatha’s father, then took poison to be with her lover again in Elysium, the place of eternal summer, beyond the Otherworld.
So Scatha was raised in the shadows, hidden always from the Captain of the Guard to protect her from his cruelty.  He would think nothing of throwing a mere babe to Lions.  She had to learn stealth and silence from a very young age, which as she grew older she turned to the advantage of the other prisoners, stealing food and running messages between them.
There was always the chance that one of the guards would find her, so she learned how to use a knife, but she had never had occasion to use it.  Now though, as she sat in the tight confines of a circus cell, listening to the gathering crowd in the arena above, she clutched her small knife in her hands and prayed to Dana that she would have the strength to face her impending death with dignity.
A sudden burst of light made her snap open her eyes, and she found herself staring in amazement into the face of her goddess.
“Do not be afraid, Scatha.  You are not meant to die here on the bloody sands of Ben Cuil.  I intend much greater things for you than that,” she said, a gentle smile spread across her face.
Scatha opened her mouth to reply, but the goddess put a finger to her lips to silence her and then faded from view.  Then the door of Scatha’s cell  swung open.
“The Lord awaits ye, child,” said the gruff voice of the Captain.  There was no hiding the glee that dripped from his tone.
Scatha stood up, squared her shoulders and took a single deep breath.
“Lead on Captain, I am ready for whatever death ye wish to throw at me,” she told him, holding her dagger fast in her clenched fist.

As she followed the Captain out onto the sand, the crowd and howled.  The sound washed over her like a giant wave, threatening to smother her with it’s ferocity.  She was used to the shadows in the deep belly of the Ben and had never been close enough to the Arena to hear more than a distant ghost of the sound that assaulted her now.
She hadn’t even realised she had stopped until she felt the heavy hand of a guard land on her shoulder and shove her forwards.  She almost lost her balance, but fought it with a sudden surge of determination not to be humiliated before her enemies.  She recovered her balance, stuck her chin up, swallowed her fear and marched into the centre of the arena where the Captain now stood.
The Captain turned to the Lord’s private box and bowed deeply.  Scatha saw the Lord himself.  She had heard tell of his shimmering, feathered cloak and the proud white stags head he wore on top of his own, but what she saw when she looked into his face was a brown haired, brown bearded man with the soul of a devil peering out through his brown eyes.  Somehow he seemed smaller, and meaner, than legend had told her and she felt some of her fear fall away.
“My Lord, I present to you the highlight of this years Feast Program,” the Captain announced, bowing low to the Lord and indicating Scatha with a flourish.  Jeers erupted around the Arena and the Lord got to his feet.
“This is but a child, Captain!  We should have more entertainment throwing you to the lions!”  the Lord exclaimed, hiding nothing of his disdain.
The Captain had obviously anticipated the Lord’s reaction, and, exactly on cue, two handlers appeared with a number of rangy, black coated Wolf pups each on leashes.  Scatha eyed them warily as a murmur of interest began around the crowd.  These pups, who were perhaps a year old, were Black Wolves and were larger, stronger, faster and more wicked that their grey coated brethren. They were Otherworld creatures too, and had magic of their own that made their coats thick enough to turn a blade or any magic cast upon them.
“The child will not last five minutes against them.  Bring me something more worthy of my interest,” the Lord snarled, sitting himself back down with a look of contempt upon his face.
“But my Lord, this is no ordinary child.  She is the offspring of the Dannan witch Brigid and the Irish chief Finn. She has eluded us for many years and only last week she killed one of my men who stumbled upon her stealing from our stores.  Her lineage alone should make excellent sport for you, my Lord,”  the Captain explained while the crowd looked at Scatha again with interest.  The Lord leaned forward in his chair.
“Bring her before me so I may look more closely at her,” he decreed, and Scatha moved quickly to comply before one of the guards could lay a hand on her.
“She has the look of a feral beast but the eyes of the Dannan,” he said after looking her up and down for a few moments, “Very well, you may proceed, although I warn you that if I am not sufficiently entertained I will feed you to these wolves next,”
With a curt bow, the Captain and his guards retreated from the ring, leaving just Scatha, the snapping and snarling wolves and their handlers on the sands.
Scatha turned slowly to face them, counting them as she did.  There were  six altogether.  They were lunging and straining, trying to get towards her, their yellow eyes ablaze.  Most of them were frothing at the mouth and Scatha could not help but notice how thin they all were.  Obviously they had been starved to sharpen the viciousness of their tempers.  They looked just hungry enough to be desperate, but not hungry enough to be weak, and Scatha was under no illusions as to how dangerous they were.
The noise of the crowd was beginning to rise again, they were growing impatient for the handlers to loose the cubs.  Somewhere in her mind Scatha registered the noise, but it was no longer important.  All she could think about was how she was going to survive once the wolves were unleashed.  Yet as she stared at them, she realised she wasn’t really afraid.
She hefted her knife between her hands and watched her foes, looking into their eyes and sensing how they did not seem to like such directness. With a metallic “clink” the first cub was unleashed.  Instinctively, Scatha drew all of her thoughts in, focusing now solely on herself and her foes.  Around her the world seemed to slow so that the wolf cub leaping toward her with death in it’s eyes did so as if the air  had suddenly turned to treacle.
Scatha dropped into a defensive crouch and waited, seemingly forever, for the cub to close with her.  She feinted at it with her knife, expecting it to react, and found it’s fur with surprising ease.   For a second Scatha felt confusion flood through her.  This seemed far too easy, yet even as the confusion gripped her, her focus failed her and suddenly the cub was retaliating against her.  She twisted away from it’s claws but they still raked her arm.  The cut burned so intensely that she cried out.  The crowd, who she had forgotten, jeered.
By now all the cubs had been unleashed and they were circling her as she clutched at her injured arm.  Panic began to rise like bile from her stomach.  Any moment now the cubs were going to close in on her and tear her to pieces.  The last thing she would hear would be the roaring of the disappointed crowd.  But then, like an echo sounding in her mind, the words that Dana had spoken to her returned.
“Do not be afraid, Scatha.  You are not meant to die here, on the Bloody sands of Ben Cuil,”
Strength flooded back into her quailing heart and she looked directly into the eyes of the largest cub.  The sound of the crowd melted away into obscurity and again the world began to slow.  Energy began to flow through her limbs and the fiery pain in her arm died, as if snuffed by icy water.
This time she did not wait to be attacked, this time she leaped forward, plunging her dagger straight towards the wolf’s heart.  It yelped and rolled away, slowly, but it seemed the magic of it’s fur had turned the worst damage of her blade.  No longer willing to wait for a response, Scatha attacked again, redoubling the force of her blow.  This time the spark went from the cub’s eyes and it lay still.
Five still remained standing though and she had not forgotten them. She stood over the body of the one she had killed and waited for them to come at her.
For an eternity they held back and she did nothing but stand and breathe.  Then suddenly as one, and at a speed that surprised her, they attacked.  They had used some of their own inner magic to enter the same state of mind that Scatha had discovered.
In spite of her surprise, Scatha still managed to leap clear of them before their claws and teeth could mark her.  She landed in a crouch behind them and struck out low with her dagger at the hind legs of the nearest one.  It yelped and collapsed, falling under the paws of the others as they turned to face her.  Scatha was prepared for the rush this time and she sliced low with her dagger once again, cutting at the front legs of the cubs.  They fell back, wary, blood dripping from the forelegs of two of them.
Somehow she sensed the next attack before it came, and was prepared for the way the two remaining cubs tried to dart around her.  She stepped straight into the path of one and brought her dagger up under it’s chin where it’s fur was softer and shorter, and it fell instantly dead at her feet.  She spun away from the corpse, keeping her distance from the remaining cubs.
By now their wariness had become fear and Scatha could sense it in them.  Even so she had no thoughts of mercy for them.  Her life would only be spared by the Lord if she killed them all.  So she picked her moment, leaping in the air, twisting and landing hard on the back of one of the wounded ones.  A crack reverberated around the arena as it’s spine snapped and she grabbed it’s head and drove her knife into it’s throat.  It went instantly limp, as blood gushed from it, soaking the front of her clothing.
Without pause she turned on another, landing a kick on it’s jaw and knocking it sideways.  She leaped on it quickly and despatched it before it could get it’s bearings.  But then suddenly she felt agony lance up her already injured arm and found that the last able cub had sunk it’s teeth deeply into her flesh.  Her knife fell from her now gripless fingers.
She lashed out at it with her foot but didn’t manage to budge it.  She grit her teeth as the pain threatened to overwhelm her and brought her right fist round to smack it in the head.  While this barely stunned the cub, it sent shards of pain up along her left arm.  Her brain was racing now and she knew she had to think quickly.  She grabbed hold of it’s soft nose, smothering it in her fist and pulling it upwards.  With it’s mouth full of her flesh and blood it would either have to let go or suffocate.  It began to growl and and froth bloody foam from it’s mouth, so Scatha tightened her grip on it’s nose and yanked upwards with all the strength she could muster.
The cub let go, yelping and fell back, snarling, blood pouring from it’s snout.  Scatha looked around for her knife and saw that it had been kicked several feet away in the scuffle.  Before the cub could gather itself again and lunge at her she dived for the knife, but it sprang after her, this time sinking it’s teeth into her calf muscle.  She let out a roar of pain which caused several surprising things to happen at once.  Firstly, it reverberated around the arena so loudly that it caused the crowd to take a sharp intake of breath and the cub to let go of her leg as it shied away from the noise.  Secondly, and possibly more surprisingly, it whipped the air in the bowl of the arena into a sudden frenzy, causing it to whirl and spin as if a storm were passing through.  Seeing this brought the Lord of the Dance to his feet, a cruel smile playing across his face.
“Kill them now, Scatha daughter of Birgid, and you can have pride of place among my gladiators!” he said with a laugh.
Grimacing and more aware of the cub that had just bitten her than the words of the Lord, Scatha lunged at her knife and grasped it.  The cub was recovering slowly, it kept shaking it’s head as if it’s ears were still ringing.  Scatha dragged herself to her feet, tears standing in her eyes as she tried to put weight on her injured leg, and she hobbled towards the cub.  Still shaking it’s head it backed away from her, and she suddenly felt a surge of pity that quickly turned to nausea.  She knew she had no choice but to kill it, but killing it in cold blood seemed innately wrong to her.  Best to get it over with quickly, she told herself, so with another roar to take her mind away from the pain and the guilt, she launched herself at the cub and tackled it, bringing her knife to artery in it’s hind leg and severing it with a vicious thrust.  It yelped then went still, as it’s lifeblood poured out on the sand.
“And the last one, Scatha,” she heard the Lords voice say as she backed away from the corpse.  Confused and dazed, she looked around and saw the last one, the one whose hamstrings her knife had severed earlier.  It was crawling on it’s front legs away from her, it’s back legs useless.  Scatha closed her eyes and tried to steel her soul against the revulsion she was now feeling.  She wished suddenly to return to the familiar darkness of the Ben’s lower tunnels, and the tears began to flow freely down her muddied and bloodied cheeks.  She became aware of the crowd once more, urging her, in no uncertain terms, to kill the last cub.
“There is no mercy for those who refuse to do my bidding on the sands of Ben Cuil, girl,” she heard the Lords voice drift above the sound of the crowd.
Her feet carried her forward, although her heart burned inside her chest.  She knew that the cub would be killed anyway, it was no longer of any use, but it wasn’t making her feel any better.  She reached it and stood above it with her dagger poised to strike.  It looked up at her, and for a second she felt her heart quail and saw her hand begin to withdraw, but then it closed it’s eyes and lay down.  Scatha gulped and tightened her fist around the hilt of her dagger while the crowd roared her on, then with a swift strike she brought it down and buried it in the side of the cubs neck.  Then thankfully, everything went black.

Tapestries of the Veils

Posted: 16/05/2016 by Alternate Celt in Experimental, Tapestries, writing

A Telepath, a Fey Princess, a witch and a Queen; four Threads in The Tapestries of the Veils.

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Photo by Iain Davidson

Been busy updating the Tapestries website so that I can serialise the books there.
So far, I’ve begun posting Tara’s stories, but I  will be posting the first few stories for each of the main female characters over the next few weeks to see what kind of reaction and or following they manage to inspire. I’ll post updates as to how it’s going here!
This doesn’t mean I’ve made any definitive decision about what I am doing next with my writing,  because I have to wait and see if this works out.  Meanwhile,  I can still think on.

Inferno #lyrics

Posted: 15/05/2016 by Alternate Celt in music, Tapestries, writing

These are the words for Inferno that I sing. Written originally  as part of the appendices for Book One of Tapestries of the Veils, but just as relevant to our world and times.

It’s rising
Rising
Inferno

Smoke is rising
From our spinning world
Wars raging all over
Because God doesn’t know
Whose side he’s on

Smoke is rising
From our spinning world
Blood spilling all over
Men always have to have
A side to be on

And it’s rising
Rising
Inferno
War and tears everywhere
It’s rising
Rising
Inferno

Shadows falling
Round our spinning world
Priests whisper in every ear
Because they know
Whose side they want you on

Shadows falling
Round our spinning world
Demons whisper in every heart
Because they know
Whose side you’re really on

And it’s rising
Rising
Inferno
Hate and fear everywhere
It’s rising
Rising
Inferno
Inferno

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Flight

Posted: 10/05/2016 by Alternate Celt in Extracts, Tapestries, writing
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Such beautiful weather, makes me want to take to the hills!  Think this old story about a Dragon flight round Glentrool will be as close as I’ll get today!

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Sunset in Glen Trool

Flight

They were riding flat out, Aithne clutching tightly to Keir’s waist and giving her full trust for her safety into his hands.  His reactions were far beyond human and he took every twist and turn on the little country road at speeds that would seem like madness for a human rider. It was wildly exhilarating to see the road rush up towards her on every corner knowing that Keir was in total control.
Steep hills were rising either side of the road, with tightly packed pines filling any space in between.  They were heading deep into the Galloway Forest, looking for a well secluded spot.  Keir spotted a passing place and slid the bike to a halt smoothly at the side of the road.  He jumped off the bike and swept her from the pillion seat and into his arms in one fluid motion.  As the now familiar warmth of his body enveloped hers, he kissed her, leaving her breathless and tingling.  Mildly annoyed with him for toying with her, she let her power flow into him, knowing exactly how that would affect him.  He groaned and let go.
“You said there was something you wanted me to see,” she reminded him when he gave her a chastened look.
“We need to go up there,” he replied, pointing to the peak of a nearby hill.  It looked like quite a long climb up the steep sides to the top.
“You want me to climb all the way up there?” Aithne asked him, giving the zig-zaging path to the top a sceptical look.
“I thought you were a country girl, Aithne,” he chided her lightly, smirking.
“I’m an island girl.  My idea of a strenuous walk involves a long, flat beach,” she retorted.
“I’ll carry you if you get tired,” he offered, his smirk broadening and putting a bit of sparkle in his eyes.  He knew that would prick her pride and get her going, and he wasn’t disappointed.  She set her jaw and made off towards the hill without waiting for him.  He plucked the keys from the ignition on his bike and followed her.
The ground was still hard with frost as they wound their way slowly up hill, and their breath froze on the air.  In spite of this, Aithne was actually glad to be moving since it had been bitterly cold on the back of the bike.  But by the time they were halfway up the hill the biking leathers that had seemed insufficient protection from the cold on the bike had become stiflingly warm, so she undid the jacket and tied it’s arms around her waist.  She still had a jumper on underneath.  Keir seemed neither exerted by the climb nor affected by the cold.  He wore his leather jacket open the whole way up, showing the white t-shirt that was the only other clothing he wore.
They got to the cairn that sat perched on the top eventually, and as Aithne stood catching her breath and taking in the view, Keir came up behind her and closed his arms around her.  She snuggled back against him, letting his warmth  take the edge away from the icy breeze that was sweeping the brow of the hill.  The same breeze caught in her hair and made it stream behind them.
The view at their feet was spectacular, with hills rolling for miles down towards the silvery line of the Solway Firth, carpeted in a patchwork of blue-green pines, fields of winter bleached grass and the dark, flinty blue of the lochs and rivers that dotted the landscape.  The pale winter sun sparkled everywhere, on the surface of the lochs and on the patches of snow sitting stranded on the higher hillsides.  The only sign of the presence of humanity was the occasional farm house that could be picked out from this distance and the odd grey ribbon of road cutting through the browns and muted greens between the hills.
“This is amazing,” Aithne said once she had her breath back. 
“It is,” Keir agreed, “But it isn’t what I came up here to show you,”
“What is it then?” she asked, turning in his arms to look at him.  She saw genuine excitement simmering in those very dark eyes.  It gave her butterflies in her stomach.
“Watch,” he said mysteriously, before letting go of her and starting to take off his jacket.  He handed it to her, not meeting her puzzled stare, and began to pull his t-shirt off. 
“You brought me up here for an extreme strip tease?” she asked him, her eyes glued to the sight of his smooth chest, all of her interest in the view beyond him gone suddenly.  He smiled at her as he handed her his t-shirt, but infuriatingly he didn’t say anything, just started to kick off his boots and roll down his socks.  When he started to unbuckle his belt she found herself unable to take his silence any more.
“What are you doing Keir?” she demanded.  He glanced up at her from peeling the leather trousers from his legs.  He wasn’t wearing anything else, and coupled with the fire that was now burning in his eyes, sending flecks of red through the black of his irises, Aithne found it very hard to hold onto her irritation.  She licked her lips, finding them suddenly very dry.  He handed over his jeans.
There wasn’t a single sign of how cold it was any where on his naked skin.  It was still as smooth and pale as always.  Without thinking she moved closer to him, drawn by a sudden longing to run her hands all over him and feel that cool, silken flesh.  He put up a hand to stop her.
“You’ll need to stand back,” he warned her.
He couldn’t help but laugh when she pouted, but she moved back a pace or two, her arms full of his clothes.  When he was happy that she was far enough away, he closed his eyes and began to draw his power up inside.  He felt a little giddy again at the surge of it in it’s new, blood enhanced state, but he let that wash through him as he used it to reach into a part of himself that his own self-inflicted weakness had barred him from touching.  His excitement grew into a rush as he felt his true form begin to unfold inside.  As it grew, getting ready to burst out of him, he became incredibly aware of his link to Aithne and to how her power was rising in response to his.  He had to fight the urge to reach out to her and let his power join with hers. 
His eyes flew open, blazing with ruby red light in the instant before his true form burst out of him.  He had just long enough to see Aithne’s eyes wide with surprise, and the world shattered as his body exploded.
She stared open mouthed at the transition.  His body disappeared into what could only be  described as a cloud of black light.  The cloud expanded, while it’s colour grew deeper and more intense.  Suddenly it shot through with scarlet lights like shards of lightning and it began to take shape, forming a long sinuous line from tail-tip to nose and stretching out into wide, swept back wings that were raised high above the body.  As the light began to coalesce into solid matter she saw the long lean body and the glossy black scales that were shot through with veins of red .  His head was long and tapered like a slim arrow-head, with tendrils of red and black forming an intricate mane that swept back from his face.  The scar scoring through his left eyelid was a harsh white line against the deep black of his scales.  She could feel Keir’s presence radiating from his changed body far more powerfully that it had ever done in his human form.  Maybe that was partly his size, because he was nearly double her hight at his shoulder and probably as much as twenty five feet from nose to tail.  She wondered how large his wings would be when he stretched them right out.
When he was completely solid, he opened his eyes and turned them on her.  They were like two glorious, multi-faceted rubies shot through with veins of obsidian.  The light inside them was mesmerising.
“You’re beautiful,” she breathed, staring up at him.  His eyes seemed to shimmer and whirl.  He flexed his wings.
Let’s go fly, he said, his voice appearing in her mind.  She could feel the longing in him.
“How?” she asked, still awestruck.
With these of course, he told her, amusement rippling through him as he flapped his wings.  They seemed massive and the draft whipped her hair about her face. 
“I mean how do I get to fly with you?” she explained, somehow managing to articulate herself for him.
He crouched down and lifted a wing out of the way to give her the space to scramble up onto his back. Hastily she put his clothes in a pile by the cairn. When she reached out a hand to touch him, the warmth of their connection flowed into her.  His scales were smooth and slick to the touch, and cool but not cold.  Somehow though, she could sense the immense heat of his fire underneath those scales. Tentatively she put a foot on his outstretched leg and reached up to grasp at his shoulder.
You won’t hurt me, he told her when she hesitated for a second.
She swung herself up onto his back , then looked around for something to hold onto while they were flying.
I don’t have reins like a horse, he said, punctuating it with a derisive snort.  She could feel he wasn’t genuinely annoyed, but it still made her feel a little guilty.
“Sorry, I just thought it might be safer to have something to hold onto,” she explained, feeling sheepish.
You don’t need to hold on.  I won’t let you fall, he assured her, then added impatiently, Let’s go.
She felt the incredible coiled power of his muscles bunching as he crouched to spring.  Her heart leapt up into her mouth as he leapt into the air.  They rose with Keir pumping his wings to generate lift.  His magic was pouring into those powerful muscles and she could feel it as it moved through his blood just as clearly as she could feel the shifting of his flight muscles between her thighs as she straddled him.  He caught a thermal riding over the top of the hill and soared higher, gliding over the shrinking valley below.  The wind blew through her hair, streaming it out in an auburn curtain .  He span on a wing-tip, turning back towards the distant line of the sea.  She gasped and felt a thrill of exhilaration that made being on the back of the bike seem tame.  She let her power rise to join and twine with his, laying herself low along his neck so that she had as much of her body pressed against his as possible.  She closed her eyes and allowed herself to feel what he felt, to join in the sheer delight of his flight.
With her power flowing through him and augmenting his, he grew more confident.  He twisted and span in the air, as agile as a swallow in spite of his size.  The rush of wind and the sense of total freedom filled him with joy.  There weren’t words in any language to describe how much he had missed the sensation.  He soared upwards again, bursting through a bank of cloud and into the exclusive heights of commercial Dirigible space.  She saw an Airship flying slowly  southwards in the distance, twinkling like a star in the bright sunlight.  The oxygen was thin here, but with magic she could draw in plenty for breathing.  She felt laughter dancing through him as he suddenly closed his wings in tight and dropped into a headlong dive.  The speed was insane, faster by magnitudes than anything he could force out of the bike, but the excitement of it was so intense she found herself laughing with him.  They plummeted downwards, with the long, sinuous  shape of Loch Trool rushing up towards them at suicidal speed.  It took a large burst of magic to pull them up short, and then as they both caught their breath he glided the length of the loch, trailing his claws lazily along the water’s surface.
“What if someone sees you?” she asked, pointing at the houses among the trees and the cars parked along the edges of the water. 
They won’t believe what they are seeing. Even people with the Old Blood don’t believe there are Dragons still. So long as I am gone before they take a second look they probably won’t think about it again, he explained.
They came to the head of the loch and began climbing with the hills, terrifying a flock of sheep.  She felt him stamp on the urge to chase them, and the sudden spike of blood lust that went with it.
“I thought dragons only took human blood,” she said, curious.
Only human blood in human form.  It’s part of the curse put on us because of Edan.  In this form, any blood will do, but humans get angry about us stealing their animals, he explained.
“You’re afraid of humans?” she was surprised.
When they gang up on us and hunt down our lairs, of course.  A full dragon can sleep very, very heavily, and there aren’t many of us left now, he replied.
They did a loop-the-loop at the top of the tallest hill and then Keir sped down the north slope, keeping close to the ground.  Aithne let out a squeal as he dodged an old abandoned shepherd’s hut at the very last second by pulling sharply back up into the sky.
“Damn, that nearly gave me a heart attack,” she gasped as he levelled out and hovered a few hundred feet above the hut.  Somewhere in the distance  there was the roar of an approaching Raptor class Ornithopter.  They trained all over the Scottish wilderness, using the forests as practice for manouevers they wouldn’t actually risk against the Spanish over the rain forests in the Americas.
Sorry, he apologised simply.
“It’s OK now,” she retorted, her blood singing with adrenaline.  A second later the world went mad. There was a confusion of sleek black scale and dull grey-blue feathered steel, a roar that made her head feel as if it was exploding and then an equally sudden disconcerting silence accompanied with a sense of wide open space and the sensation of falling.  Air began rushing away from her, stealing itself from her lungs, while her bones ached agonisingly with the cold.  Her mind was simply refusing to work, although one part was telling her in an insistent voice about the rapidly rising ground below.  Blackness filled her vision unexpectedly, followed by the sensation of impact against something firm, but definitely not the ground.  When the warmth of their bond wrapped itself back around her, driving out the bone deep cold, she knew that she was safe, lying on Keir’s broad back.
“Don’t even say sorry,” she gasped as she felt his guilt pouring over her, “You saved me!”
I should have remembered about the Raptors.  I got carried away, he told her, refusing to excuse himself.
“God, so did I, Keir.  This is incredible,” she told him, her relief at being alive still turning back into full blown exhilaration, “You are incredible,” she added, managing to make herself sit up so that she could look at him.  His head was turned to look at her, his serpentine neck twisted fully round.  His eyes were whirling again, and small wisps of smoke were curling from his nostrils.  She could practically taste his concern. 
“Did you get hurt?” she asked him, trying to deflect his worry back to himself.
It didn’t touch me, but I turned so sharply I couldn’t hold on to you as well, he explained.
“And then you caught me.  You really are incredible,” she told him, forcefully radiating her gratitude to him.  If he’d done anything else they would probably both be dead.  She felt his guilt recede, so she asked the question that was nagging at her now.
“Can you really breath fire?” She felt silly and childish asking it, especially after such a near miss, but she just had to.  As an answer she felt a deep rumble inside him and a spike of magic that culminated in a huge gout of dark flame issuing from his long snout.  Even from behind she could feel the intensity of the heat of his flame, but she saw immediately that it was more like raw magic than actual flame.  She could feel how much it cost him in power to produce it.
“That’s not something you would do often,” she observed after her initial exclamation of delight.  It was rather impressive.
Not here in the Middle World anyway, he replied, I think we’d better head back to the bike now.  That was too close a shave and the Raptors will be back, he added.
“Did the pilot see you?” she asked, swallowing her disappointment. He was right.
He saw something, but he didn’t know what.  I heard him making a call about it. 
Keir started banking towards the ground, coming in to land by the cairn.   Aithne found herself going over his words in her mind.  The noise of the engines had been far too loud for her to think through, let alone hope to hear the pilot talking.  It had her wondering again at the powerful magic he contained, and the lesson in it that flying with him had been. 
She was still thinking about it as they pulled away on his bike.  She was still thinking about it when she lay in the dark beside him that night, listening to his breathing and letting the soft thrum of his sleeping power wash over her.
If Keir was so immensely powerful, what on earth was Edan like in Dragon form?  The thought finally articulated itself in her mind as she lay there.  She didn’t sleep that night.

If you enjoyed this story, you can find more at my dedicated site for this book series, Tapestries of the Veils .

The Interview

Posted: 18/04/2016 by Alternate Celt in Extracts, Tapestries, writing
Tags: , ,

A Day in the Life……. Aidan Rourke
Anita Stackhouse for Rolling Stone Magazine
Publication Date: 23 April 2010

It was the tour from hell and one that many people were beginning to say Aidan Rourke wasn’t going to recover his career from. As the tour dragged on, some insiders were even beginning to whisper that it would be a tour that the Irish born Rock Star wouldn’t get out of alive. Then, just when we were all thinking there could be no more unpredictable twists, Aidan added young Glaswegian singer Tara Gordon to his band’s line up. He had seen her sing at a club in her home town. She sang her first gig with him in his native Dublin and nearly stole the show. Only nearly because what ever else people say about Tara’s addition to the band, no-one can disagree that on stage Aidan and Tara have lots of chemistry.
To be handed the exclusive of interviewing them both before and after their Barcelona concert at the Camp Nou is rather special because it’s the first real interview they have done since Tara joined the band. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Aidan Rourke on a couple of occasions and it’s always an unpredictable experience, getting hazy tot he end because Aidan can talk a Buddhist monk into drinking. After the first time I interviewed him I learned not to drive myself to interviews.
I meet them at the hotel bar where they are waiting for the limousine to take us all to sound check at the stadium. One of the very first things you notice about Tara is just how easily she competes with Aidan for attention in a room. She’s got presence, a wicked gleam in her eye and complete self confidence.
Inevitably there is time for a round of drinks before we leave, so as we sit down I address my first question of the day. to Tara.
“What’s it like to be thrust into the limelight so suddenly Tara?”
“Fun,” is her brief and unelaborate reply. She is sipping her drink through a straw. I’m not surprised to see she shares her drinking preference with Aidan. She doesn’t look like she is going to add anything to that, so I try another tack to get her talking.
“What’s Aidan like to work with then?”
“A pain in the arse actually,” she tells me with a smile. Aidan scoffs at this.
“You’re not all sweetness and light yourself,” he tells her, bantering back. They are going to do this a lot over the course of the day. They carry on for a minute or two now before I manage to bring them back with another question.
“So, has Tara joining changed the dynamics of the band much?” It seems an obvious question, but I want to hear Aidan’s own perspective on it.
“Totally, but I think it needed changing. I know there’s people who don’t agree, but I don’t think I could have gone on much longer the way things were. My life had gotten stuck into a groove, the music was suffering and I needed shaking up,”
“So I rode in and rescued him,” Tara interjects with a dark chuckle, and that sparks them off again, exchanging mild insults and witticisms that are far too rapid-fire for me to note down. Aidan is well matched by Tara in this little game.
At sound check I begin to appreciate the differences in Aidan and his band. When I interviewed him last, three months ago, he was losing interest in pretty much everything except partying. Today, although there’s bottles of whiskey distributed on the amp stacks, he’s keen and working hard with the band. It’s also the only time that he stops the playful bickering with Tara.
I get another chance to talk to them together with the rest of the band before they go on stage. Finn, the perpetually moving drummer, is burning some pre-gig nerves up on a set of bongo drums while Craig, the bassist, is watching and having a beer, looking relaxed. Paul and Aidan are going over some things with an acoustic guitar each while Tara nods and sings snatches of lyrics as she listens to them. I snatch a couple of moments with them as Paul restrings his guitar.
“So what was it about Tara that made you decide to add her to the band?” I ask Aidan, knowing that this could prove to be a tricky subject after some recent mutterings in some corners of the International Press. His reply is emphatic and sincere.
“The voice, it was always the voice. The first thing I heard her sing was Inferno, and she gave it something really special with that voice,”
“I didn’t even want him to come and hear me play. I thought he’d upstage me,” Tara adds with a wry laugh.
“I didn’t though, you were too good for that,” Aidan comes back at her with that charm of his. Tara seems to be mostly immune though. She launches into her own version of events with gusto. It’s the first time I really notice how strong her accent is.
“Oh, you did! You were the one who rushed the stage and begged me to join your band! Then you practically kissed me in front of the whole damn club! What a bloody uproar that caused,”
“You didn’t protest so much at the time,” Aidan retorts with sparkling eyes.
“Your silver tongue doesn’t work on me, Irishman,” Tara replies and they are ready to start another rapid exchange of fire, but I manage to interject that big question that everyone wants the answer to before it goes too far.
“Your relationship is purely professional then?” Tara answers me quickly before Aidan manages to get a word in.
“It’s a working relationship, not so sure about the professional thing,” she tells me with a bright smile. Aidan glances at her and stays uncharacteristically quiet. There’s a story here, I can smell it, but I’ve seen Aidan Rourke close up before so I don’t press. Maybe in the afterglow of the gig they will feel more expansive. Time to change the subject.
“Have you written any new material with Tara in mind?”
“We’ve written a couple of good songs together already, “Aidan tells me, “We’ve been chalking up new material for the next album,”
“Anything you’re ready to play live?”
“Soon. I want to polish things up a bit before unleashing it on a captive audience. Tara is going to be a big part of the new album so we’re working hard on it,”
“Are you looking forward to getting into the studio, Tara?” I ask her.
“We’ve got a wee mobile thing on the tour bus and we’ve done a few tracks on that, but yeah, I wanna see what it’s like to work in a real recording studio,”
“How easy is he to work with when you’re writing?” I ask, pointing at Aidan.
“Didn’t she already say I was a pain in the arse?” Aidan quips, drawing a throaty laugh from Tara.
“Is he really?” I press, laughing with her a the lock of mock affront on Aidan’s face.
“Well, he’s such a visionary and Paul is such a perfectionist it can be pretty hard to get heard between the two of them,” She’s smiling at the scowls both men are wearing now, “I wouldn’t do it any other way. They both really know their music and I’m just the new kid on the block,” I think she’s trying to placate them, but it’s hard to tell with that wicked gleam in her eye.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a perfectionist!” Paul exclaims. It’s rare for him to say anything in interviews, but I’ve noticed already today that he’s looking much happier that he was three months ago.
“So it changes the song writing dynamic with the three of you working together?” Paul nods so I continue, “Do you think it’s expanding the musical possibilities of the band having a female vocal?” He’s the trained and qualified classical musician after all.
“Well it always used to be “I like it but can we make it a bit more Rock N Roll” with Aidan, but now I have to contend with “Harder! Faster!” from Tara as well (Tara laughs in the background, another one of those throaty laughs that seem to draw the eyes of all the men in the room) I think she reckons we should be a thrash band,” Paul’s possibly unintentional innuendo is not lost on him, and neither is it lost on Aidan, who bursts out laughing while Tara pouts theatrically. She gets up, announcing that it’s time for her to go and get dressed and made up for the gig and leaves with a smile and a wave, and a glass of whisky pressed into her hand by Aidan. I have one myself. Paul goes off to have a word with one of the roadies and I get the opportunity to fire a couple of quick questions at Aidan.
“This seems like a much happier camp than the last time I was here. Has adding Tara to the band helped you regain your focus?”
“Nothing was about the music any more for me before. It was all travelling and partying and I was getting kind of lost. Tara has made me re-evaluate a lot about why I am doing this, reminded me what it was like before the lifestyle took over,” he explains after a couple of moments contemplation.
“And the rumours that keep flying around about the two of you?” I ask again, since I didn’t get his answer before, only Tara’s.
“What, that we’re a couple?” he shakes his head, “You’re not letting that go are you? We’re not a couple, not even close. I’m pretty useless at the whole relationship gig,”
I’ll wave the white flag at that. They certainly bicker like a couple, but I;m not going to deny Aidan’s admission of ‘commitment issues’.
The gig is amazing. The Camp Nou is bursting and jumping and loves it that Aidan is speaking to them fluently in Spanish. He even throws in a few phrases of Catalan for good measure. The concert is being graced by Countessa Sophia Maria Bourbon i Lioncourt, the Countess of Barcelona. In typically Aidan Rourke style, he serenades her with Angel. The papers the next morning ran with a picture of the Countessa blushing under the headline “Rourke melts the strongest hearts in Barcelona”.
The whole place ignites when Tara sings Inferno, the song which undeniably has become hers on this tour. Her voice seems to fill the whole stadium, where everyone inside is silent in awe of it. This is where she consistently proves her worth as an addition to the band. It really is hard to be untouched by the effect of it.
‘Fey’ is another major highlight in a fantastic performance. Tara whirls and spins hypnotically, acting the part of the girl victim of the Fey in the song. She plays off Aidan’s vocal with real presence in her backing vocals. They sound great together.
Back at the hotel, after the gig is over, the band get down to serious partying. The Countessa makes a brief appearance early on in the festivities, shares a drink and a conversation in Spanish with Aidan and then makes a gracious exit to allow the party to ramp up without restraint. I have to move in quick before Aidan’s persuasiveness with a glass of whisky steals my chance for a last couple of questions.
“The vibe of the tour seems to be really different, and you’re turning in some amazing performances now. Do you feel you’re silencing the critics?”
“Well, that depends on how nicely you’re going to write about me doesn’t it?” Aidan asks me, laughing. Tara is back to smirking and drinking through a straw.
“Seriously, I’ve never made a habit of reading the reviews because all I’ve ever been interested in is the reaction of the fans. Tonight was a blast and the vibe at the gig was amazing. Earlier in the tour the energy was lower, but it’s higher than ever now,” he replies thoughtfully. He’s still sober enough to be lucid and clear in his thinking obviously.
“I didn’t know you spoke such fluent Spanish, what other talents are you hiding?” I quiz him now.
“It’s only one of my many hidden talents that I will be practising later tonight,” he says with one of those patented Aidan Rourke charming smiles. Some woman is going to be lucky tonight, but judging by the disdainful sneer that crosses Tara’s face it definitely won’t be her.
“You are so full of yourself,” she tells him, and there is a playfulness to it that I don’t think is any more acidic than anything she’s said to him all day. It’s all part of the fizzing chemistry between them that is so obvious on stage. They start slinging insults at each other again now and it does get a little sharp, but I’d say it’s no more than a healthy friction that will keep them on their toes. maybe we are all drunker than I thought too, because this time there’s no way of bringing them back to the Interview and it’s over for the night.