The Sacrificial Boy
Aislin learns that all choices come with consequences
Aislin’s thoughts drifted back to the last few moments before waking. Lately, visions and reality had been become increasingly difficult to tell apart. So upon opening her eyes, Aislin didn’t know what to expect. However, not lying on the ground surrounded by angry villagers, but waking up to the peaceful sounds of the night did seem a bit surreal.
Thankfully, the King’s Healer had been able to keep quiet upon discovering Macha, sound asleep next to her. She felt bad, having awakened her so many times in the last few weeks because of the accursed dreams.
Slowly slipping out of bed, trying not to dwell on the memories of her friend lying in a pool of blood, Aislin grabbed a cloak, wrapping it around her body. The chill that it kept out had very little to do with the temperature. These visions were disturbing enough without seeing people she loved hurt or worse.
Perhaps the last one was a warning. After almost being killed by a nervous sentry, Sir Nevan had been fearful of a real attack upon her person. But why would the villagers do such a terrible thing? It would serve no purpose other than to cause their own deaths.
Sadly, Aislin had been tormented by some of the same villagers in the past, but for them to actually assault their own lord’s armsmen was unthinkable. Even worse, although she still didn’t quite believe the validity of her new station, so would attacking a person considered to be the King’s own representative. Such crimes would place a death warrant upon the entire village. The innocent and the guilty alike would be put to the sword, the homes burned down to the ground.
If the dream had indeed been a warning, Aislin could not sit idly by and allow it to happen. True, she didn’t care for most of the people in her village, however, the wholesale slaughter of those same villagers wouldn’t be something she would ever permit.
Since the death of her mother, the raven haired beauty had tried not to cause trouble for her Grandmother. No matter what torments were inflicted upon her by others, she didn’t resist nor complain.
Even worse, after Rowena had run away and tried to take her own life, Aislin detached her emotions from the world around her. If she didn’t feel the emotional pain then the world could no longer hurt her.
But that defense no longer brought comfort, if it ever had. Finally deciding to face the world head on, Aislin had taken off that old battered armor. The confrontation with the village women told her one thing; she would no long allow others to treat her with any less respect than she deserved.
Smiling at the peacefulness of the night, Aislin felt calm for the first time in a long while. She would go to her Grandmother in the morning and tell of her visions. Most likely, the easiest way to keep the attack on her cottage from coming true would be to move into the Keep. That would make both Miles and Nevan very happy.
“Aislin, why are you still awake?”
Turning around, Aislin found a sleepy Macha propping herself on one arm.
“Well tell me about it in the morning. Come back to bed, you need your sleep.”
Slipping back under the warm covers, Aislin inhaled sharply as Macha leaned over and began to nibble on her ear, then her neck. Full of desire, Macha slid back up, their lips coming together, igniting a fire that started in the pit of Aislin’s stomach to spread all over her body.
As their breathing increased, Macha’s hands began to wander, caressing, grasping, causing Aislin to gasp in pleasure; her body moving up to meet Macha’s hungry touch. Slowly slipping her hands underneath Aislin’s chemise, the young apprentice began to gently stroke one of Aislin’s nipples.
Lost in pleasure, waves of ecstasy almost overrode the wrongness, as Aislin felt her body change. Without a pause, the apprentice’s hand slid down passed Aislin’s taut stomach, to find a very feminine mound before slipping two fingers inside, which until moments before had been impossible. How could she not have seen it? Aislin had never left Brionglóid, the land of dreams.
The King’s Healer knew at once, how easy it would be easy to surrender to these desires. Although her spirit cried out to be complete, Aislin knew this world to be a lie. No it was more than a lie, suddenly understanding the danger she now faced. It was a prison.
“No.” Aislin whispered, trying to escape her lover’s embrace.
“Don’t fight my love, isn’t this what you truly desire.” Macha continued to make love to Aislin, her fingers buried deep into her lover’s soft flesh.
Shaking her head, with tears running down her face, Aislin broke away scurrying to the other side of the bed.
“Why do you insist on resisting? I can see that this is your deepest desire. Submit to me, girl, and I will make all of your dreams come true.”
The raven haired beauty screamed as Macha transformed, turning into Miles. “If not the girl, then how about the man; do you not find this form pleasing instead?”
The shadow form of Miles laughed.
Drawing power from the deepest reaches of her spirit, a well of power unknown to her, Aislin fought back. This was no dream but dark magic set to trap the sprit. Healing Renn had made her vulnerable.
Dark threads twirled around Aislin, trying to ensnare her very being, but once again Aislin broke free. Again and again, dark tendrils attacked and with great effort, the King’s Healer pushed them back. Finally, drawing forth even more power the world went dark.
Opening her eyes, Aislin found herself standing outside, in the center of the village square.
“Where have you been?” A voice called out to her from inside her Grandmother’s cottage.
“We don’t have time for this.” Grabbing her hand, Aislin felt her childhood friend pull her towards the Mill. “I told you yesterday that they would be arriving. Please don’t leave them waiting.”
“Who is waiting for us?”
“Aislin, I can’t do this by myself anymore.” Rowena sighed. “We must go, they…they will help you.”
“What’s happening? Where are Macha and my Grandmother?”
Rowena stopped her face full of anguish. “After all these months, you still deny what has happened. “
Squeezing Aislin’s hand, she waved to a group of white robed women. Upon approaching, Rowena went down into a deep curtsy. “Your Excellency, I have brought Milady Aislin as you have requested.”
Looking around, Aislin found the village deserted. Several of the houses had collapsed. What had happened?
“Poor child.” An older woman approached. “We will take our sister to the Chapter House; perhaps there she can find peace and healing.”
“Rowena, please tell me what’s happening where is everyone?”
“I don’t see how explaining it to you again is going to help. Since Macha and your Grandmother died, you refuse to accept what has happened.”
“Both of them are dead?” Aislin cried out. “Are they truly dead, how can that be?”
Aislin knew that an event so horrific, so damaging could force a person to escape into their own mind. Had the attack on her cottage already taken place? Could she not accept the consequences of the assault or was this just another trap?
For the first time since the visions and dreams began, she could now feel the difference in the world around her. This too was a trap; she still remained deep in Brionglóid.
“Remember Aislin, the plague.”
“Of course.” Aislin commented, no longer really paying attention. Throwing her senses out, Aislin began to hunt for the beast.
Rowena smiled. “Good, maybe you are remembering.”
“Keep going, child.”
Rowena nodded to the most senior of the King’s Healers. “You did wonderfully, Aislin; everyone that is alive now owes their lives to you. But please try to remember, the plague becoming stronger, making sick even those you had already healed. It spread everywhere. You couldn’t stop it, no one could.”
“So everyone in the village is…”
“Dead, like many others in Lord Kelvin’s lands and half the Kingdom. But you can no longer remain here, Aislin. Forgive yourself, move on. I need you, the Kingdom needs you. Please….”
“I’m sorry, Rowena.” Aislin backed away, pulling her arm out of her friend’s grasp. Running down the street, the King’s Healer made her way back to the cottage. If these healers took her away, she knew she would be trapped in this dream forever.
Flinging open the door, Aislin found, sitting in her favorite chair at the table, a silver haired man dressed in black robes, drinking from her favorite cup.
“Welcome back, does this future please you? “
“No more than the other, who are you…?”
Aislin looked hard at the strange man understanding that earlier it had taken the form of Macha and Miles. With what now appeared to be fangs, and pointed ears, the King’s Healer knew she didn’t face a human Mage. She also realized her folly in thinking of attacking such a powerful spirit even before she overworked her magic.
“I see in your eyes you know that already, how delightful.” Smiling, it took a sip from her cup. “The tea is quite nice.”
“What do you want?” Positive she wouldn’t like the answer, she asked anyway.
Aislin laughed at the absurdity. Who was she?
“Now my dear, it would have been simpler and much more pleasurable for both of us, if you just submitted to my will, but it appears that’s not likely going to happen. Is it? Surprisingly, even in your weakened state, you were able to escape my traps. Nor does it seem, in this realm, I am unable to force you do to anything. Frankly dragging you into Brionglóid was no small feat on my part.” The silver man sounded quite pleased with himself.
“I’m not going anywhere with you, sirrah.”
The creature shrugged. “I disagree; the other way would have been much easier on both of us, but this will suffice. You seem to be the type more concerned with others than your own well-being. Even with these mortals who have treated you poorly all your life, you still wish to help them.”
“And if I refuse to go with you?”
“Simple, the curse will strengthen. Perhaps there might be another Healer who can stop the sickness, maybe even weaken it. But you know this to be unlikely, don’t you my dear? So if you resist, what you have just seen will come to pass. Perhaps not in the same manner but still, all those deaths will be on your head.”
The creature set the cup down and leaned forward with a feral smile on its lips. “On the other hand, it would be simple to push your not so pleasant villagers into committing violence. A rebellion would cause quite a number of deaths, don’t you think? So many are close, a little push and the rivers will turn red with blood.”
Leaning back on the chair, it sighed. “However that way is less certain. Either way, I promise you, the ones you call Macha and Ina will most assuredly die. So, yes, I do think you will come to me.”
Aislin nodded reluctantly, she really didn’t have a choice.
“Simply splendid, so I should expect you at Dubh Caisleán in the next few days?”
“Dubh Caisleán, the Sorceress’ old Castle?” Aislin frowned.
Bardic stories told of the last stronghold of the ancient Sorceress deep inside the swamp. Crafted from a stone black as night, wondrous treasures from all across the land lay inside, guarded by powerful magic’s and creatures of nightmares. Only the foolish or the desperate would search for such a place.
“Excellent, you know what I speak of. You are not as dim-witted as I thought.”
A flicker of anger passed over Aislin. Feeling the creature’s raw power, perhaps it would have been folly for her to have thrown herself into battle, but she wouldn’t willingly walk into the woods without receiving something more in return.
“Before I agree, you will remove the curse. You will also return to their families, all of the girls you have taken.”
“I’m sorry my dear, not possible. Even I cannot bring a spirit back from the halls of the dead.”
Aislin clenched her fists.
The shadow creature laughed. “However, I am not without mercy. So by removing the curse, you will come to Dubh Caisleán of your own free will.”
Aislin scowled, why did the creature take other girls if it just wanted her in the first place? “Yes, however I will ride Lord Kelvin’s lands to make sure you have kept your part of the bargain. Once I am satisfied, I will come to you.”
“By your own free will?”
“Yes, by my own free will.” She shouted.
“Done!” The shadow creature howled with glee.
Once again the world turned black.
“Thank you Macha.” Aislin reached for the mug of tea. With a small frown on her face, she looked at it for a second before taking a sip. Lost in thought over last night’s encounter with the creature, she ate in silence; something which was not lost on either her grandmother or Macha.
With a real chance to stop the curse, if what she experienced had been real, the Aislin understood that she would not be allowed to simply disappear. Her Grandmother and Macha would try and stop her. Nevan and Miles would insist that they, along with a cohort of armsmen, join her. Although most likely, the four of them would agree to just lock her up in the nearest tower.
Aislin felt horrible, but with so many lives at stake, the best choice would be to simply slip away.
“Are you ready to go, Macha?” Aislin said without thinking. “Sir Miles is on his way.”
Last night’s battle with the creature had done more than increase her strength. It had apparently opened a hidden doorway to new powers. Even her healing skills, formidable before, now seemed much stronger. Without even touching her grandmother or Macha, Aislin could tell the health of each woman. That same new power also allowed her to feel Sir Miles’ presence, along with the rest of her escort as they crossed the village square.
Aislin’s grandmother gave her a confused look before she jumped at the pounding at the cottage door.
“Gran, will you please let him in while I finish getting ready?”
Disappearing into her bedroom, Aislin knew that her bag and the other items of her office might not be needed today. It was a bitter sweet thought though.
“Will you tell me what’s going on?”
“It’s nothing.” Aislin noticed that the door had been closed.
With a frown, Macha walked over and started to braid Aislin’s hair. “You have never been a good liar, my love. More dreams I imagine.”
The raven haired beauty had to keep from laughing, or crying, she didn’t know which. “Yes.”
“No, it’s something more but you won’t tell me? Will you?” Macha stepped forward to look directly into her beloved’s eyes.
“Later.” Reaching up, Aislin cupped Macha’s face, kissing her deeply. One thing Aislin learned last night, her feelings for Macha were true. She did indeed love her grandmother’s apprentice. As usual, when given the chance of true happiness, it was torn from her grasp.
“Well, that’s nice.” Macha blushed.
Aislin had never been so forward before. Smiling to herself, the young apprentice continued to fix Aislin’s hair. “Still, I’m worried about you. Why aren’t you in bed?”
Although overusing one’s power didn’t usually do irreparable harm, it had happened before. What Macha didn’t expect was to find Aislin standing in front of the window watching the sun rise.
“Why? Did you want to join me?”
Macha eyes opened wide in shock, what was with Aislin today? Not that she objected, but still. She knew Aislin had changed over the last few weeks, but she couldn’t believe just how much. Speechless, Macha blushed as her hands finally finished the last of the braids.
“Your hair is almost long enough to do this justice.”
Unable to help herself from teasing Macha, Aislin suddenly felt sick. What was she doing? The more this continued the more that Macha would be hurt when she disappeared.
“Thank you though, for well, everything. These past few weeks would have been impossible without you.”
Macha just smiled, but why did it feel to her that Aislin had just said good-bye?
As the two women entered the front room, they discovered Sir Miles speaking excitedly to Aislin’s grandmother.
“Good morning Aislin, I have some excellent news.”
The King’s Healer just stood there shocked for a brief moment, but quickly recovered. “Good news, now that would be nice for a change.”
“Indeed.” He turned and smiled at everyone in the room. “This morning it appears that the few who remained ill, suddenly recovered.”
“That’s great news, Sir Miles.” Macha reached over and held Aislin by the hand. “Isn’t that wonderful, Aislin.”
The King’s Healer nodded. “Thank the gods. We should see how the village fares this morning as well.”
Walking through the village square, with memories of the night before, Aislin missed the questions Macha was asking.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“You seem so far away, Aislin.” Before she could say anything else, a group of excited villagers approached. Word had started to spread throughout the entire village, the plague had vanished overnight.
To Aislin’s surprise, people who had never spoken to her with anything but disdain in their voice thanked her for helping them. A few even took her aside to apologize for what had been said over the week to her, being fearful for their loved ones.
What surprised her the most, were the ones who went as far to apologize for hurts done to her in the past. Even Rowena greeted her with a hug, her mother finally allowing her out of the house. Aislin thought perhaps for a moment, that this too was a dream but her magical senses informed her that she was indeed awake.
Once it had been determined that no sickness remained in the village, Aislin and her escorts mounted up and made their way down the King’s Road. The King’s Healer could feel everyone’s joyful spirits. She too tried to keep a smile on her face but it was becoming difficult.
Macha could tell that Aislin had been hiding something most of the day. The smile on her face, did not reach her eyes.
“You’re still worried that the curse will return?” Macha rode up next to Aislin.
They had just departed another village, like the others in the midst of a celebration. Everyone wanted the King’s Healer to remain, to celebrate with them, but understood that she needed to make sure that illness had finally departed from Lord Kelvin’s lands.
“Oh…yes I guess.” Aislin replied without even looking at her.
Macha frowned; she could always tell when her beloved was being anything less than truthful.
“It will be fine.” Macha reached over and took Aislin by the hand. “Whatever it is, it will all work out.”
It had been a long hard day by the time Aislin and her escort rode back through the village. Sir Miles had wanted them to return to the castle, where Sir Nevan had been planning a celebration for the end of the plague. They also wanted to honor the King’s Healer who had made it all possible.
Aislin had been able to ask for one more night at home with her grandmother. Sir Nevan had insisted that she move permanently into the Keep. Some one of her social rank should not be living in a healer’s cottage.
Macha thought that Aislin would be much more excited over the news. She smiled, thanked everyone but the light was still missing from her eyes. Even the news that her Macha and her Grandmother would be joining her in the Keep did not seem to make a difference.
“I am still leaving a half a dozen men to watch over you tonight. Until we have dealt with that shadow creature, or whatever you call it on the prowl the nights are still not safe.” Sir Miles twisted in the saddle, looking about. For once the village seemed rather peaceful. “I’ll be by in the morning with an honor guard.”
“Miles, that’s not…” Aislin began.
“Yes it is, although many helped, you alone deserve such an honor.”
“Thank you, Miles, for…everything, and good night to you.”
Macha frowned. Once again it sounded like Aislin was saying more than just good-bye.
For the most part, Aislin had kept the smile on her face all day. It was hard not to be excited seeing the joy in people’s eyes. She just kept looking for that joy in each village and that carried her to the next and the next. However upon entering the cottage and seeing that her grandmother had prepared all of her favorite dishes, she almost broke down.
As she took a seat, the knowledge that this might be the last meal with the two women lay heavily on Aislin. The food as usual was good, and she pushed aside those dark thoughts, enjoying the time she spent with her grandmother and Macha.
“I expect Lord Kelvin to bring the Royal Thaumaturgist with him to deal with shadow creature.”
“That’s more good news, then.”
“Right so don’t go off and search for the thing yourself. You have done enough already.” Mach said while pointing her finger at Aislin.
“I agree. Also, once his lordship returns the three of us….” Ina looked at Macha for a moment, and then smiled. “The four of us will sit down and discuss your past.”
“Why not now?” Aislin spooned a mouthful of Wardonys into her mouth. The poached fruit had always been one of her favorite deserts.
“I gave Lord Kelvin my word. Plus there are a few…things that need to be decided before we can talk.”
Aislin nodded. It really had been rather foolish to think that her grandmother would tell her all those tonight. She would just have to put them in the back of her mind, as she had more pressing worries in the hours ahead.
The three women stayed awake much later than normal, catching up on news. Ina had seen very little of her grandchild and it was nice to have her home for a chance.
Suddenly tired, the Wise Woman covered her mouth with a yawn. “I think it’s time for bed everyone.”
Macha too couldn’t keep her eyes open.
Reaching for her grandmother, Aislin held her close. “Thank you for tonight, the food was excellent as always.”
“I’m surprised you left any of the Wardonys for us.” Ina returned the hug. As a sudden wave of drowsiness seemed to come upon the Wise Woman, Aislin guided her to her bedroom.
“I’ll be there in a minute, Macha.” She called out.
After helping with her outer garments, she tucked grandmother into bed.
“Child, I should be putting you to bed not the other way around.”
“Yes, well it’s my turn tonight. Plus I had a lot less mulled wine.” Reaching over, she gently kissed Ina on the forehead. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Aislin.” Seconds later, the Wise Woman fell into a deep sleep.
With a sad smile, the King’s Healer walked into the bedroom that she shared with Macha. Finding her beloved half-dressed sitting on the bed, Aislin began to help her undress as well.
“You’re doing this, aren’t you?” Macha said accusingly. “At first I thought that you drugged the two of us but you didn’t, did you?”
The young apprentice had heard rumors of another Healer able to do something similar, allowing them to sleep while she worked. However, if someone resisted it then they wouldn’t go to sleep. Aislin power simply overwhelmed those desires.
It’s time for you to go to sleep.” Aislin finished helping her get undressed, and like her grandmother got her into bed without much of a fight.
“No, please tell me what’s going on.” The young apprentice wailed, fighting against whatever power was putting her to sleep.
Aislin sighed, Macha deserved to know. There was little chance anyone would be able to follow her once she entered the woods. Taking her love by the hand, the King’s Healer went over last night’s dreams.
“NO, you can’t go. Please, at least take me with you.”
“I can’t, Macha; I refuse to put another person’s life in danger. Don’t you see?” Tears were now coming down Aislin’s face. “This is a more than a fair trade; even just to protect you and my grandmother.”
The young apprentice continued to struggle, although her will formidable, Macha found it paled in comparison to Aislin’s. The last thing she felt before sleep claimed her was Aislin kissing her on the lips, and telling her how much she loved her.
Donning her mother’s clothing, Aislin now in full King’s Healer regalia headed out the door. Placing the band around her shoulder, she pulled the golden medallion to her lips, praying to the gods for protection.
As she headed towards the edge of the forest, Aislin knew that the armsmen, who sat around a camp fire next to her cottage, were now all fast asleep. She had gained more than a few powers since her battle with the shadow creature.
Walking under the full moon; Aislin had started to become depressed at the thought of never seeing those she loved again. Earlier in her life, she would have continued her walk, feeling as if she were approaching the gallows.
However that Aislin had vanished, disappearing when she put on her mother’s clothes for the first time. No longer was she the frightened little boy. Although there were still many mysteries in her past, Aislin had no plans on just give up.
Upon entering the woods, quickly passing the clearing that first started this journey, she readied herself for the upcoming battle. She would not cower or whimper in the face of that shadow. And although the likelihood of her coming home was slim, she would wrap that hope around her heart as if it were armor. And in the end, if she fell, after protecting the ones she loved, the sacrifice had been worth it.
Authors Notes: A special thanks to djkauf for a little elvish editing. If you like the story please leave a Kudos, if you have the time I would love to hear from you. Thanks to all for reading!
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