I open my eyes to near-darkness. One lone candle gutters on the
mantle, and faint embers glow in the fire. The bath water is still warm,
and I swirl it around a bit with my hands. I am sitting in a pool of
Whatever happens next, I must be careful. Nine toes poke up out
of the water. I wiggle them. It's not until I actually look that I
notice that one is missing. There are times when it hurts, of
course--phantom pain, they call it. I sometimes think: it is good that
this happened to me, it helps me understand, in some small way, what
Foster is going through by having no legs.
The space where the tenth toe should be reminds me to be careful.
I will need to be very careful.
I do not know the depths of the game that the Faeries are playing.
I do not know why they chose me, who is not their most dangerous enemy,
but probably their most committed and hating one. I do not know why they
examined my soul, and found that the darknesses there would best serve
I am a vessel, for the third time in my life. The first and
second times, I was the vessel for new life; first a beaker for the mixing
of Foster's essence and my own, and then an incubator for Harry and
Iseult. Now I am a vessel for the magic that is going to re-take the Eye
from the Serpent and preserve Amber? Those first experiences as a vessel
were awesome enough; I find this next one completely frightening.
So, it is I, a human-shaped urn, chosen for carrying capacity
rather than any skills or attributes or powers I possess, who am going
with the Unicorn and a Faerie and some small number of my relatives to
brave the Serpent tomorrow, and bring back in triumph the Jewel to my
king. It should be glorious. It should be a bard's song. If we live.
My Celtic sense of fatalism is spurring me along on this dangerous
course. I feel awkward trying to be optimistic about all this to Foster.
Why should I suppose that I will live through this at all? I'm a babe in
arms compared to my companions. I'll be the first to fall... And while
I'll do it properly, fighting, with my good sword in hand, my throat does
ache a bit with unshed tears. Beauty--Foster--Haris--Iseult--Felix,
Ariana, Ahab, Driscoll... Fiona, Suhuy, Mandor, Tamaryn... names I will
slowly forget the meaning of when I make the journey to the Tir-na n'Og,
the *real* Tir-na n'Og, not the City of the Evening Star, not the
deceptively beautiful home of the Faeries. It's a long, lonely journey on
the Paths of the Dead. But there will be such a homecoming there! I can
almost resign myself to it, though I do worry that I won't be able to find
the way to the Isles of the Blessed from the lair of the Serpent.
It's all such a jumble. Denial and acceptance of my fate;
mourning the family I leave behind, but joy at rejoining with the family
that left me; hope for the future, but preparation for death and failure.
It's hard to be an optimistic fatalist.
If I live, my regrets live with me; if I die, they die as well.
I never lived my life halfway, anyway.
The water grows tepid. I lurch to my feet and leave the black
pool of water behind. I spread a towel on the hearth, and stir up the
fire, and comb my hair while the heat from the fire dries the water from
my body. When my hair is done, I spread a cloth across my naked thighs
and begin to polish my sword.
Fathers, mothers; son and daughters; husband. Pray for me this
night, for tomorrow I go to battle.
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