Otherworldly Memories Part VII: The Dark Son
- Otherworldly Memories Part VII: The Dark Son -
It was a period of war and conflict in the lands of Eriu, for the tyrannical king Bres had been cast into exile from the kingdom of the Tuatha de Danann over which he once reigned. It is said that his rule of terror lasted for seven years, but seven years to Elfin kind is a long period of time indeed for any ruler to reign, especially one given to great cruelty! Though some argue his reign was longer, and that it was only in the last seven years of it that the worst things happened under his monarchy. Time for me during those years had little to no meaning, so I cannot say for certain what the length of Bres' reign truly was. Only that I was far less concerned with that, than with attempting to discover the whereabouts of my missing son Lugh, whose chariot and the druids who drove it never reached the great city at Tara, which was where he was bound, there to begin his education. His mother, my beloved Ethniu, knew no end of heartbreak at the loss of our only child... and I slept not peacefully in all the days and nights during my search for him. I journeyed far and wide, stopping only at the borders of the kingdoms of the children of Dana, for there did the tumultuous chaos that followed in the wake of Bres' disgrace run rampant. For some time, there was no word from that part of the land, but soon I began to hear rumors that Nuada of the Silver Hand was once more High King over the Tuatha de Danann, for they had dispensed with the law that stated only one without blemish could rightfully reign over them as their monarch. I had in all truth wished that they had done so before Bres ruined my peoples' standing with our one-time closest of all allies... for now there was enmity and anger in the hearts of the children of Dana for my kind. It was, largely, due to the lies that Bres had told... wherein he convinced everyone that his over taxation was in fact mandated by me, which it was not. Everyone that is who lived outside of the kingdom over which I was still High King. For in the kingdom of the Fomor, the truth was known... but the hearts of Nuada's people, and he himself had become hardened against us. And it was not long before he declared a state of war between our two kingdoms. The Fir Bolg sided with me, and so did the Tuatha de Danann find themselves greatly outnumbered in the field of battle. Though their weapons were more advanced, and more powerful than ours at times, and it was only by the craftsmanship and cunning of the Ur'kril that in the end my people were able to meet the enemy on the battlefield as equals in might and strength. For the Ur'kril, the fallen Elfin race that had once dwelt in the shadows of the world, and in the regions of the underground where no human eye has ever seen the glories of their subterranean cities... they did in my kingdom come to be highly esteemed, and their scientists much sought after for their knowledge. It was through the Ur'kril that the Fomorian race became feared throughout the land, as we pressed each time harder and harder against our enemies. And the might of the children of Dana was sorely tested for the first time since the wars against the Fir Bolg that had once united the lands of Eriu. The Ur'kril had begun to master the same scientific and medical arts through which Nuada's arm had been replaced ere he came by his renowned nickname, that being Silverhand. And so did tales begin to be told that many of the warriors of the Ur'kril and the Fomor in general were misshapen and deformed. For the art of so replacing missing limbs and body parts with mechanical versions was not an exact science by any right means. The Tuatha de Danann refused to use this art... and, had not used it since Nuada needed to have his own procedure done. But we needed every advantage that we could get against them, and so did we use what our foes had deemed to be a forbidden science, a science of last resort only. And thus did this time of chaos continue for a very long time indeed. During the years of it, my son Lugh had been being raised by a tribe of wandering folk who would oft journey unmolested through the lands. For the truth of his disappearance was that his chariot was attacked by rebels who had been involved in the uprising against Bres, and who were attempting a strike deep into my kingdom's territory. They were a very tiny band, and so went unnoticed by my soldiers when they found clandestine means to pass our borders and reach the roads down which Lugh's chariot was traveling. They knew who the child was, and meant to slay him, but they managed to kill only the druids before the wanderers I spoke of rescued the little boy.
The rebels were slain wholly, and the wanderers, who were journeying from my kingdom to the lands of the children of Dana, did not apparently know whose child Lugh was... and when Lugh tried to say to them that he was the son of the High King Balor they did not believe him and thought he was making it up in order to sound brave. They liked his bravery very much, and so they adopted him into their clan... and he lived with them for a very long time, growing up as one of them, forgetting in time the truth of his own origins. With the clan of the wanderers, he learned and did master every skill imaginable, and there was nothing he was not good at. The majority of his upbringing ended up being within the realms of High King Nuada, whom the boy grew to idolize as a hero. He was raised on tales and stories of the great victories and heroics of the warriors of the children of Dana, and knew of the Fomor only stories of tyranny, evil and twisted science as well as even more twisted sorcery. Each tale of the Fomor grew in the telling, until they said I was a wicked giant and that my folk were a race of literal monsters. For the enemy sought to demonize us, make of us something less than dirt, so that when their warriors did fight with us, they would show no mercy and no hesitation when it came to striking us down. Lugh, for this reason, grew to adulthood hating his own father, never knowing I was his father at all... and living for the chance to face his own blood kin in battle. For he believed he was an orphan of the children of Dana, found on the roadside... likely the child of druids... and rescued from death by the bravery of the folk who reared him. As far as they knew, the tale was true! But it was all a lie, a delusion they chose to believe... for as the boy grew to manhood in power and strength, and in beauty, cunning, and skill at all things he set forth to master, it became clear that he was no mere child of druids. And some of his folk did think back to his claim that he was the son of Balor... and prayed that Lugh would never remember. For should he ally with me, with his father and thence with his true kin... then would be the moment of the children of Dana's truest peril, for with him at my side the Fomor would be unstoppable. And at last the Tuatha de Danann would be forced to bend the knee to me once and for all! For I sought, with more dedication and passion than ever before... to unify the land, and bring an end to the chaos that was with each passing year threatening to tear everything apart. It was only by chance, that I missed meeting him when he came to Tara at last. For this was during a time when Nuada wished to call a ceasefire in order to meet with my wife Kaitlin, who was still the High Queen in Tara... which was yet the city which was the heart of the kingdom of the Fomor in Eriu. He was received as an honored guest, for Nuada was by all considered to be a great man despite being our enemy. And he wished to speak with Kaitlin about a possibility of beginning steps towards mending things between our two kingdoms. But she never once did trust him, and her dark reputation preceded her... and so did he not fully trust her either. For she did not come by the name “Kaitlin the Crooked” through fair dealings and living an honorable life. She was a murderess, a liar, and a deceiver, and I had in public broken from her some time ago. Thus was it seen that the meeting between the two monarchs was a tense and difficult one, and even the druids were at a loss to know what to advise either of them. I kept apart from these doings, continuing my search for my son throughout the land, traveling in disguise at times... wearing a great black cloak and robes in order so that none might see my face, over which I also wore a mask to hide my features. Only my height was seen as unusual, but in a land where tales of giants were common... no one thought I might, in truth, be the terrible demon king Balor. Yet was my mission urgent, though perilous was my way. And far in the north of the land my beloved Ethniu ruled as the Shadow Queen at our tower home on the small island of Ynys Gwydr, where she was honored as the supreme matriarch of the Ur'kril people. She immersed herself in their history, their lore and their customs, and began to transform herself after their image. In time, she filed her teeth into fangs and took to marking herself with the ritual scars that so many of the Ur'kril had upon their bodies and faces. She lived for my return, and prepared the Ur'kril for my return with prophecies and tales of how my return would coincide with a great conjunction of the stars and the planets... following which we would need to be prepared for a final battle against the children of Dana.
And no one had seen or heard from The Morrgian for a very long time, after a day when she said that she needed to embark upon a great journey in search of knowledge. She never returned from that quest, and there was none adequate enough to replace her as my voice and emissary in the land. Had she been present at Tara, she would have recognized Lugh when he came there... for nothing escapes the notice of the goddess of death. But she was not there when he came hither, and in truth for her part Kaitlin had never seen the boy in his youth... so she did not know who the young man actually was, taking him to be a boastful braggart and a wandering fool when he came to Tara and demanded to be allowed to see the two monarchs. The doorkeeper at the castle refused him entrance and told him to go home, back to wherever he had come. “For only if you bring some skill or talent that could be use to either of the two rulers who are conferring there presently, might it be considered worthwhile to let you enter.” those had been the words it is said that the doorkeeper spoke unto Lugh, who proceeded to say unto the man the following words: “If you would be in need of a shipwright, I could help you build ships to bolster the navy of any kingdom in the land! If you need a blacksmith, there is nothing I cannot craft at any anvil or forge you could present me with. If either ruler needs a champion, I could fight for them... but do know what my heart's loyalties lie with High King Nuada first and foremost. If you require a swordsman for hire, I could fight for pay and there you would find a mercenary without any equal. As a bard, I can play the harp in a way that would make angels cry and devils weep! If you need a hero, I could prove myself to be one by undertaking a quest of either monarch's choosing. As a poet, I can compose verses that are beautiful and moving. I know much of history, and even more of ancient lore, though very little of more current politics and doings in the land I am afraid. For my folk are wanderers! I have some talent with the magics of sorcery, and the rarer things that are forbidden by the druids to learn. I am also a bit of a craftsman, who can mend chariots or tailor garments if it pleases anyone to have a tailor on hand. What do you say, sir guard! Would I be of use to anyone in the castle, at present?” And the doorkeeper said that although they had all of those things at court already, they had no one who was able to perform all of those tasks well. And so he admitted that the young man might be of some use after all! And thus did it come to pass that Lugh was allowed to set foot in the castle at Tara. He presented himself to both of the two rulers, but claimed that his heart lay with service to Nuada Silverhand. Kaitlin said unto him as follows: “I've no use for a man who serves one master in his heart and another by his deeds, for in the end his heart will always cause him to betray the master he loves less!” and thus did Nuada put Lugh to the task and ask him to prove his boasts about being a master of so many talents. Each task he was thus presented with, he accomplished, until it was seen that he was no mere braggart. “Who was your father, Lugh, that you have such prowess in all things... and in each thing there is no equal to your skill? For it is no son of wanderers who could master so many arts, and still be in the prime of their life and able to demonstrate their prowess with a kingly grace. For with each test you passed, you were humble and did not boast or speak of yourself arrogantly! You are no common man... so I must ask from what family it is you came.” and that was said unto Lugh by Nuada himself. The young man said honestly: “Of old it has been said to me that once I knew my father and my mother both... but that I forget their names and their faces in time. It is with regret that I know not the face of my father, or the warmth of my mother's love... and I am truly an orphan in the lands of Eriu, a wanderer with no true home. That, is why I seek to pledge myself to your service, noble and goodly king Nuada of the Silver Hand.... for your cause is a just one they say, and I seek to serve a just king in order help bring peace to the land and an end to the strife that has beset it for so long. It is said you fight a wicked demon, and if you need a champion to stand against such a creature... I will swear an oath this day to defeat the monster and bring honor and glory to your name, your house, and your kingdom.” and by those words, the seeds of conflict were to be stoked in Nuada's heart once again, for he saw in Lugh a secret weapon of sorts, a champion like no other, who might turn the tide of battle in favor of the children of Dana. The peace talks were called off.
Lugh, was granted many titles in his service to High King Nuada, and after the king went back to the lands of the Tuatha de Danann over which he ruled, the young man received the title of Chief Ollam of all Eriu... and that meant that he was the highest of all the bards, the keeper of the most important of all the works of literature and history. The man to whom other bards and historians and those seeking to be masters or mistresses of writing, poetry and other such works of art would look to, so that he might so train them and teach them to become better at their chosen crafts. He thereafter began to train himself in order to become the chief of all Nuada's champions. Stories tell that he won many a contest of arms and feats of strength against the renowned Ogma, who himself was already considered to be a might sort of champion indeed. And oft would Lugh play his harp for king Nuada in order to entertain him and ease his troubled thoughts. Eventually, Nuada agreed to grant Lugh command of all his armies... and in very short a span of time, he began to train them to become very powerful warriors indeed. And he prepared them to do battle once more against the Fomor, but this time he vowed that the battle would not cease until the demon who ruled over the Fomorians was slain and peace restored to the land. “For Balor is a terrible beast, they say, and a creature of the other world, a fiend from the time before Atlantis sank and the great cataclysm broke the world and made it as we know it now. He consorts with demons from the underworld, and though once he was fair in face and form, his body is now twisted and as misshapen as is his very heart and soul. It is not just right that he be slain to bring peace to the land... it is a mercy to end the life of such a horrid creature.” that is what Nuada told to Lugh regarding the young man's often asked questions as to if the cause of the children of Dana really was a just one. “Have you ever seen the man?” Lugh would ask many times, and Nuada would say always: “I knew him well, once. But I know him no longer! But you know what it was like under the rule of my predecessor Bres, who was said to be Balor's servant. And you know how our folk suffered under the rule of that craven tyrant! If ever it can be said that there was good in High King Balor... Bres proved that he has abandoned that goodness in favor of madness. He is a demon now, young Lugh... and, if you should face him in battle, be wary for his is not like us. Not whole in body or in mind! He would destroy you most cruelly, as he once did destroy the Fir Bolg when he faced them on the field, slaughtering their folk brutally and making of all their bodies and heads a show of his terrible might. Rumors tell that he lies with his daughter and that his wife is a more vicious devil even than he. When I sought to meet with her, I could see the evil that was behind her eyes, the cunning and the cruelty that exists there. Balor's only virtue can be said to be that he parted from that harlot queen before it was too late! But now he dwells with the devil folk from the underground domains, and where he has gone since retreating to his dark tower in the north no one knows. Many say he roams the land in search of his son, who went missing many years ago... that his great shadow has been sighted along the borderlands of my kingdom, though he will not set foot within my borders for he fears for his life should he do so. You are a smart lad, Lugh! And a good friend. So... believe me, when I say that you would do well to heed the warnings I give you about Balor. Show him no mercy should you meet... for he will surely show you none!” and Lugh began to question much of this wisdom, one day inquiring of the druids as to just how many years ago it was that Balor's son had gone missing. For something in him was causing him to remember a tiny bit of the memory he had lost of his true parentage. He often dreamed about a great tower not unlike the one they said that Balor was dwelling in, and in that dream his father was beautiful but had three strange, mechanical eyes. And his mother was also beautiful, and they loved him with all their hearts. He would often wake up crying due to those dreams, and calling out for his mother's arms and his father's voice. One day he thought to ask of Nuada: “Your majesty... my king... what did Balor look like?” and Nuada refused to answer in a way that satisfied him. He said only, evasively: “Like any other man of our folk, once... until he changed. In truth, he abandoned what it is that makes us men and women. And once that happened, he became the demon that he now is.” And Lugh was never satisfied with those answers, for his mind was very bright.
He wished he could ask the High Queen of the Fomor about what her memories of Balor were, but it was no longer possible to cross the border into their kingdom and reach Tara safely without risking an all out reprisal by doing so. He, a known champion of the Tuatha de Danann would be killed before he could ever reach Tara. For Lugh was becoming famed throughout the land as the years went on, and his reputation preceded him wherever he went. He was a beautiful man... more beautiful than handsome. In many ways, he was totally his father's child... for, he was not very tall, only being average in his height and in his build, and he had sparkling green eyes, the eyes that were his true family's trait. His face was round, his nose a bit aquiline, and his lips full and lovely to look upon... much like a maiden's. His skin was well tanned, and his bones were small but strong. Even so, he was well muscled from years upon years of hard training and countless physical activities. His eyes were almond shaped, and when he did speak his voice was softer than most men's are of a want to be. It was the softness of his voice that thus made him so skilled as a singer and a reciter of poetry, and he had a skill when it came to drawing those who listened to his songs and his poetry into the world of his works. Once, he met an old man who was on the road between two villages near the contested area that lay between the borders of the two rival kingdoms. The old man called out to him: “Young man! By your tapered ears I can see that the blood of the ancient Elvish lords is diminished a bit in you. I knew a man like you once, with ears just like those, when I was a druid of the Fomor... he was a great man, a great king of the Fomor race! But now, no one speaks of him fair any longer, and it saddens me to think of it. He changed, they say, and disappeared... and has not been seen or heard from in all the lands of Eriu for a very, very long time. For all I know, he might even be dead by now! But you remind me, of him... your face, your voice, a match for his own.” And Lugh saw and heard the old man, who was clad in a gray cloak with the hood drawn back. Old as the hills was that man, his face covered in wrinkles and his hair white and wispy, what there was left of it upon his head. Lugh asked of the man, who leaned heavily upon a rough wooden walking staff: “Old man, you have the advantage of me! But I pray you, who was this man you speak of, for it is possible he could in fact be my father, whom I never knew and would like to one day meet.” And the old man did so wink at the young champion of champions, and he said unto him: “Lugh, your name is famed and it is a goodly name, throughout both kingdoms... if still your father lived, he would be proud to hear of you and your deeds even if he knew not that you were in fact his son. Though he would be disappointed at your choice as to which kingdom it is you serve.” to which Lugh replied: “Why will you not tell me the name of my father, if you know it? For, I sense that you do! Is it a secret so terrible as all that... is my father the demon king Balor himself? For if he is... then I should surely ponder deeply the path I am on and where it leads, lest I fall to darkness as did he before me.” and the old man said to Lugh at last: “If you already know your father in your heart, then it would do me no good to name him! And if your heart is already poisoned against him, then you would not believe me if I told you that he is a good and decent man, if somewhat strange and reclusive. I know your father, Lugh... he sent me to seek you out if I could, and should I ever discover you and whatever it is that happened to you, that I should see if it be possible to bring you to meet with him. But I see by your words, that it is already too late! Would you, if your father was indeed Balor, be willing to meet with him?” and the young man's face turned pale as the truth set in at last. “He is my father, than! I have been lied to all my life. By my people, and by the very king I am now pledged by oath and a blood brother's bonds to serve. And yet... he wants me to kill my own father, if what I have long known to be true is so. And I worry that I will not be able to do this, should we meet in battle! How can I meet with Balor? How can I do so, and not disgrace myself either as a son to him or as a champion to my king! This is an impossible choice that lies before me... and at either end of my path there will be tragedy. Just tell me one thing, old man... is my father as evil as all the legends surrounding him claim?” and the old man began to cry, and said to the boy: “No, Lugh, he is not evil at all. Just broken in heart and weary in body. I shall go to him now, and tell him I met you!”
And the old man walked away, and never again did Lugh see him upon any road. That old man, who was indeed a druid in my service, met with me at a small cozy tavern that lay within that disputed part of the land where either side could come or go freely, for it lay between the borders of our two feuding kingdoms. The hearth was warm there, though it was springtime so that was hardly needed. And as the tavern keeper asked some errant travelers what sort of drinks they might be wanting to pay for, the air of the place was filled with great cheer, despite the state of things in the country of Eriu. The scent of the wooden beams and rafters was thick to my heightened sense of smell, and the thatch of the roof I also could detect the faint scent of. Though it was drowned out somewhat by the floral herbs that were being burned to freshen the tavern's air. The tables were rough and made from solid oak, as were all of the stools on which folk sat. People seemed to be so engrossed in their own business, that no one took any notice of me as I sat at a table near the back of the place, awaiting the report from the old druid who had insisted to me that he would be able to at last locate my son. For three days I lodged at the inn that lay across the old dirt road from this tavern, and at last word came to me that the old man was returning to meet with me, with news of my son. I pulled my cloak about me nervously, and adjusted the mask on my face that totally hid my features. It was plain, black and featureless but with slits for the eyes and a slit for my mouth so I could speak clearly and breathe comfortably enough when I wore it. I drank only water or fruit juice for the last three days, keeping my mind clear and my body pure as was oft my way. The old druid hobbled through the tavern door, hunched and stooped as he was... until, he at last got to my table and sat himself down with a groan. “It has been a long time, my old friend, since I was young and without pain!” said the druid. His name was Calatin, and he was the greatest dark druid in the land. Some, even claimed that he was immortal, though clearly for him immortality did not mean that he got to enjoy eternal youth. “You taught me so much, Calatin, and yet... the one thing I most desire to learn, you have not yet told me. Where is my son!” and I said that far more angrily than I should have liked to. The ancient druid cleared his throat nervously, and began to tell me everything. For there was little that had escaped his notice during his travels, and he had been to many places and seen many things without being noticed. That was how I came to learn all that I have related so far regarding Lugh. For, Lugh had been a very sociable and talkative young man, and he had many friends, who oft talked loudly of what they knew. It was easy for Calatin to learn even Lugh's most private of business, much as a detective in our own modern age might be smart enough to be able to do... for he had many spies, leads, and various informants. He knew precisely what road Lugh would be walking down that day he met with him, and what he could not learn through ordinary means, he divined through his occult arts, which were always quite considerable. Once he had told me everything, which took a long, long time... he sighed and did sit back with his back against the window near the table. “So he will not meet you you after all.” the old man said in an exasperated tone, adding: “I... tried to convince him to, and I even used my powers to try and in fact manipulate his mind, in order to convince him even more strongly to come with me. But his will, it is like yours... I cannot penetrate his mind. Thus it was, that he pretty much told me no and what his exact words were I have already told you. He is torn, conflicted, and does not know what he wishes to do with his life now that he knows you are his father. This was all, for nothing! What good will it be to you, my dread lord, to know your son's identity and that he is well... if he is now your sworn enemy? Better that you never learned the truth, I think, for it will be a weakness for you when the two of you in the end must face each other on the field of battle.” I slammed my fist hard upon the table, cracking the hard oak from one end of the table to the other, but without splitting the table in two. Calatin swore an oath and jumped back out of his seat in shock. I then stood up and glared at him, my mechanical eyes piercing into his soul that twin spears of green light. My third eye was covered by my mask, but surely it was glaring as well. “This distresses me greatly, Calatin! You should have not given up so quickly in bringing him to me. I do not reward failure, druid! And you know how I punish those who do fail me.”
My words sounded cold and cruel... even to my ears. What have I become, after all? I thought silently to myself as I steadied my hands, which were shaking with nervous rage that was barely able to be at all contained by me. Calatin was shaking... his entire body was shaking with fear as he stammered: “Oh no my dread lord and god, oh no! I... I, have not... I have not, failed you... not yet. Give me another chance to win the young man over! Please... I know that I can still be of use to you... I... I am sorry.” and he fell to his knees before me, cowering quite pitifully. “Tell me where he is right now! I will go to speak with Lugh myself, and after that I shall be done with your pathetic service.” Lugh was a common name, and there were many men by that name whom I had met with previously, who all turned out to not after all be my son. I wanted to be certain that Calatin was not lying to me in order to seek greater favor. “If you do not tell me where he is, or lead me hither... I will crush your skull with my bare hands, slowly. You have seen me do that before, druid! You know my threats are not idle ones when I make them. And as you die, sickening and horribly, we shall see if your storied immortality can mend your smashed skull and regrow your addled brains.” The old man agreed to take me to where he met with Lugh, and there we tracked the young man for many days. He seemed to be avoiding returning to Nuada's kingdom, and was ranging about these neutral lands instead. “He is likely trying to collect his thoughts, and is seeking to comprehend what it is I have revealed to him.” Calatin explained to me, as we followed closely the footprints from Lugh's sandals. With one of my mechanical, enhanced third eye's various vision modes, I was able to track the heat signature of those footprints, and I could follow them thus all the way to the very source of them. I no longer even needed Calatin at my side, but I kept him there just for company. He was weak, pathetic and cowardly, as well as treacherous and opportunistic in the extreme, but still he was loyal to me for the most part. And he could perhaps make it easier for me to get Lugh to speak with me when we finally caught up with him. At last, we found Lugh whilst he was reclining beneath a mighty oak tree that stood atop a grassy hill, and the young man was resting there upon the grass. He was wearing a long red tunic belted at the waist with a black leather belt. He had a short sword within a scabbard that hung from the belt, and his eyes were closed as he seemed to be sleeping peacefully. At once I looked at his face and saw that Calatin's description of him to me was correct. He was my son, for there was so much of both myself and his mother in him! Though I did not wish to frighten the boy so I told Calatin to stand back whilst I went to speak with him. What would I even say? I had not seen my child since he was only little, and now... it was like looking down at myself in younger times, long before the accident that caused me to have to live as I did now. “Lugh...” I began to say to the lad, and I after that said as softly as possible: “Lugh, my son... are you awake? I wish to speak with you!” and at once his eyes snapped open and he appeared very frightened to see my dark, looming shape standing as a massive shadow might over him. “Who are you, who calls me their son? I was dreaming about... of my mother and father again... and the tower where we used to life together as a family. But perhaps it is that I am dreaming still, for you look much like a wraith of some sort, and no man at all! Are you the ghost of my father, then, come to haunt me?” and I said to the young man: “I am no ghost, I can assure you, and both I and your mother miss you greatly! Our tower is lonely without your light to cheer us... for you were always a happy boy, and quick to learn. Would that your chariot never was diverted from its' path to Tara, else you would have grown up to serve a very different king than the one you chose to serve now.” And Lugh said unto me: “You are Balor, then! The demon king... your voice is just like my own, only a bit deeper. The softness, it is not what I expected to hear coming from that dark mask you wear! What lies beneath it, father? Would you show me! Or by faith my imagination will conjure up all manner of horrible visages that will surely haunt my nightmares.” I removed my mask then, and cast my hood back so that Lugh could see my shaved head and my three mechanical eyes which had a faint green glow to them. A glow that grew more intense when I was angry, which I was not at present. In my face, he saw his own features looking back at him... and the young man gasped in surprise at this fact.
“You, really are my father... aren't you!” he exclaimed, and I nodded my head as I bent lower to be at his height. “You are the same height I once was, before my legs were broken and a rather peculiar sort of smith found me. It was he, who made me as you see me now! This was no doing of my own. How it saddens me, my son, that we find ourselves at war... how did it ever come to this I wonder. All I wanted was to give you the best education I could, and raise you in a loving home, in a peaceful era. But alas, it seems that you have managed to stir High King Nuada to ever greater heights of ambition! And not too long ago, he was willing to try for peace once again. What did he tell you about me, boy? That I am a demon, a devil, a monster! I have heard it all before... everyone says it now, some even in my own land have even started to say it. And my accursed wife, the High Queen... Kaitlin the Crooked... she in her bitterness towards me, likely spreads those sorts of tales like wildfire. But the smart folk know better! They say you are very intelligent, Lugh... perhaps in ways even I shall never be. There is no talent you do not possess, no task you cannot accomplish! You are a hero, a champion, and a poet. I love you, my son, and I am proud of you! Come home with me, to Ynys Gwydr. Together, we can heal this land of all that wounds it so, and create a unified country at long last! What can foolish Nuada Silvertongue ever be able to offer you that would compare to meeting your mother and knowing the love of your family? He uses cunning and deceit to keep you ignorant of your own blood, and seeks now to use you against me as a weapon. Have I not been broken enough? Why seek to break me further, when all I seek is to make you happy! And to end this ridiculous war, which was caused by the lies of truly evil man. That man being Bres, whom I should never have allowed to become king in Nuada's stead. He lied about me boy, those taxes he imposed were his own doing! Not of any mandate of mine. All the misery he caused and all the wickedness he did... I still seek to punish, should I ever find him. What say you, child? Sure it is that there can be no point in championing a lie, in the service of yet another king who is a liar! For by his lies, I now know that Nuada also is unfit to rule any part of this land.” and those were the exact words I spoke to my son, who regarded me thoughtfully and long before speaking. After a while, a sad look came over his face, and he looked desolate of spirit. He said unto me immediately following that: “Father... king Balor... I do not, nor have I ever truly believed the impossible things they say about you. I always suspected you were just a man like any other, just as somehow I always knew that you were in truth my real father. Not that foolish wanderer chieftain Cian, who claimed to be... and for whom I did already undertake far too much, only to be bitterly disappointed. For he never dwelt in a tower, nor had he at his side a woman whose face matched the mother I remembered from my dreams. He was a liar as well, and he used me also, for his own ends... he is dead now, I do not know if you've heard. Now it is, that the wanderer tribe is without a leader, so they shelter in king Nuada's lands under his protection. I avenged Cian's death, for it was wrongful how he was murdered, but losing him... it somehow felt like I had lost only a guardian, and not a father. He never truly loved me I think, though he came close to it at times... and the woman he claimed was my mother, she was cold to me always. Her name is Ethniu, and she is a plain sort of lady, plain in her looks and plain in her ways. What is my real mother's name? And is she beautiful, father! I long to know.” I laughed and chuckled a bit as I said to him: “Ironically, she is also named Ethniu... I never realized that, like Lugh, it seems to be a common name in these lands. Oh, my son, she could not be more different from that other Ethniu! She is so much like you in certain ways and your hair... it reminds me of hers, so very much, that same strawberry blonde color that it has. But... your hair is more straight I think, much like my own used to be. And... you wear it long, I see! As I once did when still I had hair. I have lost mine due to a... condition, I suffer from. When you get older... you may wish to be mindful of that! Just in case. And Lugh... your mother, when last I saw her, she was still very, very beautiful to look upon. She reigns at our tower in the north, as a queen in her own right! We defy the High Queen Kaitlin's claims to be ruler of our kingdom, and we govern it from the shadows as the true power in our part of the land. For my folk are still devotedly loyal unto me, first and foremost!”
And that was all it took... to get Lugh to agree to accompany us back to Ynys Gwydr, where I had very much expected all to be well and good. I had not yet learned of how Ethniu had changed and become an Ur'kril, and fallen into darkness due to despair over imagining that I was gone forever. She remained as ever faithful to me, for she had pledged that she should love no other even if I died. And she was true to her oath! But she had become crueler towards our enemies, and more cunning in her methods. Folk had begun to fear her greatly, and I had yet to see what her altered appearance was like. Calatin warned me, for he knew already, that I would find my beloved greatly changed... and not in ways that were pleasant to behold. I asked him what he meant, and he informed me of all that I had not been ware of during my time questing in search of my son. “She is Ur'kril now, my king! They are a warrior folk, first and ever foremost... savage and terrible. As you know all too well, for they worship you as their chief god! And once one of us Elfin folk falls into darkness and becomes an Ur'kril, there is no returning from that. It is a permanent process, and the effects are not just physical either. They are mental, emotional, spiritual. To be Ur'kril is not merely a way of life, it is a philosophy that becomes a part of the person's soul and spirit, and it changes them, hardens them a great deal, and makes them different. Darker. As I know you well, my king, I know that you will still love her! I just wanted you to be aware, is all, that she is now the supreme matriarch of the Ur'kril who dwell at Ynys Gwydr... and it is said that she enacts gruesome sacrifices unto alien gods in order to bless her folk and grant you a safe return. She fell into believing, wrongly, that you might never come back without such eldritch aid. And her despair over her fear that you were gone and never to return... it has caused her mind to snap a bit, and driven her to seek means of securing your coming back to her by employing dark sorcery so fell that even I would not delve into the doing of such arts as she now commands. Be careful how you deal with her, at least until her mind is able to process that you are back and well! With your son, at your side. Perhaps seeing this will be all that is needed to make her happy once again... whenever I tell her that I have met with you or seen you, she has called me a liar because I could not furnish proof. She is lost deep in madness at this time! But she is still a good woman and a great queen. Perhaps the mightiest queen the Fomor have ever known... but also the most terrible to behold. I do not know what standards of beauty you hold to... but be ready, for as I said she is greatly and irreversibly changed from the woman you once knew.” and I felt a chill at hearing this from the old druid. And that is how I came to learn of all I have related thus far about the fate of Ethniu. The road northward was long and winding, and though the weather remained pleasant... with the spring rains holding off throughout the journey... it was a tiring trek with so much on my mind, and Calatin gave me as much in the way of details as he could. I did not expect my beloved to descend into savagery and allow herself to fall to shadow like this. Dark Elves, some called her kind... Shadow Elves... and indeed, the Ur'kril were her kind now. She had been my blood daughter, and oddly enough she was Lugh's older sister in addition to being his mother. For both were my children! And that meant that the madness which is said to cause an Elfin person of any gender to fall and become Ur'kril had its' place in me. Yet.. I had not gone mad yet in this way! I was still not Ur'kril, though I lived among their kind and was beloved of them. I was shocked as we approached the tower to see all along the road and to either side of the great wooden bridge that led out to the isle upon which the tower's shadow loomed, tall wooden stakes set into the ground, with countless bodies of slain Tuatha de Danann warriors firmly impaled upon them. Pikes were set up in a similar fashion, with heads and skulls mounted upon them. There were crows everywhere, picking at the flesh of the dead, and blood stained the ground beneath all of these horrific displays. With dread in our hearts, we approached the tower... we went this whole way on foot, stopping only occasionally to rest, and so we arrived tired and weary from our journey across so great a stretch of the land as we had crossed to get there. We saw upon the walls to either side of the main gates of the tower, which had been fortified a great deal since last I was there... the flayed skins of several men and women, nailed firmly into the walls. They flapped in the breeze like bloody tapestries.
“Are you ready boy, to meet your mother?” teased Calatin in a cutting tone, and I said to the old druid as we entered the tower once the gates were opened for us: “Watch your barbed tongue, old man! Lest I cut it from your mouth, as you likely deserve.” and he fell silent after that. The place was a fortress now much more so than it had been, and it was also a temple complex, with great statues depicting bizarre... and quite incomprehensible looking... deities of immense size and stature. There were cages wherein I saw great war wolves being trained, and the whole placed looked ready for war. Suits of scale armor of Ur'kril design, with horned helmets and demonic looking face plates were put on display along the sides of many of the hallways, and I saw more machines now than had been present in times past. Things of all sorts that I did not know the meaning of, nor what the contraptions did. There was singing, but in the guttural language native to the Ur'kril people, and the beating of drums and the playing of flutes. When we were let through the gates, into the tower, our coming had been announced... for Calatin had told the guards in the gatehouse itself that the High King Balor himself had finally returned, with his son. All of this merrymaking was doubtless to celebrate the occasion. As were other, less pleasant festivities! For I could hear people screaming from certain chambers, and was not sure I wished to discover why it was that they screamed. We ascended the spiral stairs at the heart of the tower and climbed upward to where the upper floors were, wherein the apartments that served as the royal chambers lay. The apartments did seem to be yet every bit as beautiful, splendid and opulent as ever before they had been, with soft silken draperies and the most fair and elegant of tapestries upon the walls. All of the furniture was lovely, and some of it even was new I noticed! And there were shelves containing all manner of mystical artifacts, objects, curios and statuettes. There was a skull on one shelf, covered in blood however, and this was a clue that something was indeed different now about this place. I spotted crystal balls and wands of all sorts, the wands being crudely constructed and likely for some mystical purpose. I was not a stranger to the dark arts, and I practiced them myself, for I was a necromancer of some skill after all. But a lot of those items that I saw upon the shelves... seemed to have a darker purpose than even I was normally in acquaintance of. And there she was, reclining like the queen she was, upon a comfortable divan near the glass pane of one of the windows, out of which she had craned her neck around to look out of for a bit before she noticed our arrival in her presence. It was Ethniu alright, but she was indeed totally changed. Her skin now had a more yellowish tone to it, though it was still well tanned... and her sparkling green eyes had a very wild, wide look to them that made her seem somewhat unhinged. Her face was round, and she seemed to be smiling, though her teeth were all filed unto pointed fangs now that appeared very sharp looking. Her full, moist lips were blood red, and I should not have been surprised if she was truly using actual blood, in order to anoint them in this way. She still wore her gold nose ring in her elegant looking, aquiline nose... the same shape of nose that I and Lugh both had as well. Like the green eyes, a family trait! Along with the almond shape of her eyes. She was full figured and lovely, and though she was older now than when she and I had first come to dwell in this tower together... she still looked very much beautiful and lovely to my eyes. Despite the fact that she was now covered with ritual scars, and tattoos, and other markings common to the Ur'kril folk. Her face had scars in the shape of lines cut into it... horizontal scars that were small and which were cut across her nose from the bridge on down to just above the tip. Above where her eyebrows had been, which were shaved off now, there were two curved arches that were also scars, and two that were beneath her eyes... and which ran from both sides of her nose down and around her cheekbones. She had metal stud piercings on both sides of her nose bridge, and her ears were now pierced to accommodate three pairs of small gold loop earrings. Her hair was all in dreadlocks and braids now, and she looked very wild and tribal. She wore a tight sleeveless outfit not too different from a leotard, which buttoned in the front and was black in color... thus her legs and arms were bare, and I could see how muscular they, and she, had become. Her feet rested upon a small pile of skulls that lay heaped about the floor in front of the divan. “Welcome home, beloved!” she said happily.