Here is the next bit of Stumbles, I've known the initial premise for Erin being Erin, but didn't know WHY until I woke up several hours ago.
I added the tag for Magic because it is and will be part of the story, as I will explain in the talk between Erin and Stasia here.
The cautions are due to the violence in parts of this chapter and the suicide of Erin's father before she was born.
Stasia had to stand there and wait for a few minutes before the door opened and Erin spoke, "Welcome to my home. Please enter."
Stasia followed Erin into the house, all the way to the kitchen at the back of the house. The kitchen itself was quite nice, the cupboards and cabinets Erin told her were actual red oak, with a matching table in the middle of the room that could seat eight people. The door to each cupboard had an inlaid design etched into the wood, the outer part being lines running along each side of the surface, with a loop at each corner. Most of the are within the etched lines was covered with etched images of the bluebell, the table was the same but on a larger scale.
When Stasia said that was unusual, Erin replied, "Yes, it is nowadays, but they were built by an ancestor in 1919, they're almost a century old. Well, except for three of the cupboard doors, the originals for those were destroyed in a gunfight in the house in the late '50s."
A quick inquiry led to Erin setting up the coffee machine, then turning it on; both of them took seats at the table.
Erin smiled, saying, "I need to tell you a story, every word of it is true, I will prove it to you once the story is told."
"This story relates to you in some way?" Stasia asked.
"It does. The story starts perhaps a thousand years ago, when a force under the command of Brian Boru met on what would be the field of battle the next morning. He gave his commands, including to one young male to go back to his castle and inform his wife that he was well.
"Now, the young man that he sent could run like a deer across the grasslands, but had little skill at the ways of war, being only twelve summers old; he stuffed a few pieces of bread and a chunk of meat from a recent kill in a pouch and was on his way. Except for stopping to eat or drink, or for very brief naps, he crossed the nearly sixty miles between the battle site and the castle in just under eleven hours, arriving about three hours before dawn. He gave his report to the lady of the castle, rested for two hours, replenished his supplies and raced back to the battle.
"As the tale has been handed down since then, the lad ran all the way back to the battlefield, stopping only long enough to eat and drink, and returned to find the battle surging back and forth across the field. He stumbled over some warrior's dropped short sword, then spotted a small wooden shield on the ground, picked it up, buckled it to his left arm and started working his way around the field to Brian Boru's standard.
"The entire run back there had taken perhaps nine hours all told, the sun was beginning to edge toward the western horizon. For several minutes, as he wandered past the scattered copses on the edge of the battlefield, he was lucky and met no one, but that couldn't hold.
"He had managed to cover about half of the distance to the standard when a large male confronted him. "Where be ye going, boy?"
"The lad was still several feet away from the warrior. A quick look around revealed a broken spear shaft with the spear point still attached just within arm's length. He dropped the sword, grabbed the broken spear and planted the broken bit in the dirt just as the warrior lunged forward.
"The boy shut his eyes for a few seconds, fearing he was about to die, then opened them to find the warrior was dying, bits of blood trickling from his lips. The boy had raised the shaft in the nick of time, the warrior ran into the spear point which ripped right through a lung.
"The boy shuddered briefly, let the broken shaft fall taking the warrior with it, then picked up the sword and continued around the field. He eventually reached Brian's standard without meeting any other enemy warriors, dropped the sword, then raised and waved the standard.
"Some of Brian Boru's men saw the standard being waved, they roared their approval and Brian's forces rallied around him. The boy continued to wave the standard, and over the next hour, the tide turned. With one final surge, the enemy force was beaten, dead or dying on the field.
"Brian's officers walked with him back to the standard, the boy was still waving it back and forth and did not see them at all. Brian grasped the standard in his iron grip, quietly telling the boy to stand down, then spent an hour listening to reports from his officers, including reports from at least three of them about the boy's singlehanded defeat of the warrior on the edge of the battlefield nearly two hours earlier.
"Brian smiled at the exhausted lad, "Ye are a budding warrior, lad, ye'll make a fine one some day with a bit of training. Go and rest now."
"One of the officers led the lad to a thin pallet of woven branches and grass; the boy laid down and was asleep within a minute or two."
Erin stopped talking for a bit as the coffee machine announced the coffee was ready, soon both women had a cup in front of them.
"Well, that lad was the earliest known ancestor of my family, there was no clan name at the time, there was no need for one.
"Seven or eight years passed, the young man met a lass, they wed and she bore many children to him. The line continued in such fashion for perhaps three hundred years, at which point a younger son announced his decision to find a home on the other isle.
"He eventually made his way over to Northumberland and established a place on the River Till several miles from the border with Scotland. He had learned metalworking from his father and grandfather, and began making farm tools and other items.
"His grandson inherited the land eventually and noticed that good armour was a necessity for any warrior. He wandered down south, all the way to London and spent five years learning how to craft various types of metal armours, his favourite being chain or ring mail over leather.
"His craftsmanship brought him to the attention of King Edward III, who made him a minor baron and gave him the land running from what is now known as Embleton Bay north to the River Tweed and west from that bay to the border with Scotland, taking the name Cedric Maille.
"With the king's order in hand, he returned to his home and established Maille Ironworks as a source of quality chain and ring armour.
"One of Cedric Maille's female descendants, Rhona, led a force of twenty men into the highlands in 1461, eventually meeting some Camerons on a ride across their lands. One of the Cameron men, a bastard son of a cadet branch, challenged the girl before anyone could stop him.
"Rhona laughed, long and loud, and accepted the challenge. Only her own men that had followed her here, twenty in number, knew that she had been trained for almost a year by a visiting English knight as he recovered from injuries taken in battles all over France and Spain.
"The two were given space to be able to fight without interference, at which point the head of Clan Cameron stated, "To the first cut only." Both agreed, and the fight commenced, with the two of them crossing the space first in one direction, then another.
"About ten minutes or so had passed with both of them trying to get a clear shot at the other, swords clunked against shields or crossed each other, then Rhona spotted her chance. She feinted left, then as the Cameron man moved to follow, she twisted sideways and cut his arm.
"The head of Clan Cameron yelled for both to stop, Rhona and the male stood there panting, then he noticed the blood trickling down his arm. With a brief nod, he turned back to walk through the members of his clan and head home to tend his wound.
"Rhona called him back, telling him if he stayed, she had materials to tend his wound; he agreed and she quickly dealt with the injury.
"Afterward, Rhona spoke to the assembled Camerons, 'My name is Rhona Maille. Perhaps some of you are familiar with the chain mail and ring mail armours my family makes? Perhaps a few of you might even have a set of our armours sitting in your homes?'
"There were brief but affirmative replies to both questions from some of the Cameron menfolk.
"'I led these men here from the eastern shore at the area known as Embleton Bay several miles below the River Tweed. We've walked and run through roughly a hundred miles of your land just to see how far we could get without being noticed. We've done well, aye?'
"'Without being noticed? That's quite the feat!'
"'All that way with only twenty men to guard her back? She's a strong lass for sure!'
"There were other remarks of a similar nature, including a suggestion that she wed the young man that challenged her. The head of the Cameron clan listened for a while, then agreed. Rhona accepted, so long as her husband would take the Maille name as his own.
The entire group, including Rhona's band, returned to the nearest Cameron castle; she stayed there for three days before leaving for home.
"Things continued in decent fashion for a bit over two hundred years after her return, their reputation growing with each finished product."
Both women had been focused on Erin's telling the story and now found their cups were empty, cups were refilled and they sat down again.
"Well, now we come to the part that is relevant to me in the here and now.
"In either 1669 or 1670, the records are not very clear about it, two members of the Maille clan fought outside the ironworks. At that time, the ironworks was owned and managed by Aladric Maille, a direct descendant from Cedric's line through the marriage to the Cameron bastard. He heard the commotion outside the ironworks and stepped out in time to see the dark haired male knock the blonde one down.
"He knew the two men, they were cousins of the family, the dark haired one descended from Brian Boru, the other from the Cameron side. The blonde stood up, wiped the blood from his mouth and cheek, then hammered the dark one in the gut, winding him for a moment.
"The fistfight continued for several minutes, both of them snarling, yelling and apparently laying claim to Aladric's eldest daughter. Both were saying things that were not considered appropriate for young lasses, and Aladric could see his daughters in the doorway of the house.
"Just as Aladric was about to say something, he saw Cambra Lafoy stalking out from the woods near her own home. He could tell from here that the woman was rather upset, and watched as she headed toward the two fighters, casting a spell as she came close to them.
"Both young men were rather annoyed to find out that they could no longer hit the other, it seems the witch had set an invisible wall between them. Both checked to either side, that odd wall seemed to stretch at least five yards each way. Then the witch spoke.
"She said to them, 'So this is how you young men court young ladies these days? You dishonour our name by your actions. Neither one of you shall have any of Aladric's girls, or any other girls from this family. I curse you now to be both male and female in one person.'
"Before they could figure out was was happening, the wall vanished and another spell was cast, this one on the two males. The spell washed over the two of them, the faint purplish glimmer slowly descending as it worked its way from their heads down to their feet, then stopped.
She then turned to Aladric and spit out, 'And you did nothing to stop them, even though they might have hurt others. If you had spoken, perhaps it might have ended with just a slap or so on either side, but both of them were intending to kill the other and you did NOTHING!
"She shook her head, her twin braids snapping from side to side, 'For doing nothing, I curse you and your family.' She then spent a few minutes chanting before she spoke to him again. 'Hear this and know it to be true: Your line shall have at one person each and every generation that will bear the sex parts of both male and female. As your family grows, the number of those per generation will rise. Until the one comes who will attain both her male and female puberties far beyond the normal time, your line shall stay cursed in this manner.'
"She finished speaking, turned slowly round to look at one and all, glowering as she turned, then stalked back to her hut in the woods.
Erin stopped telling the story and shook her head, saying, "I didn't learn about the curse until I was thirteen when I found an old family journal. One of the early entries in it was by my father's mother, who had written down the actual curse in an entry in the journal.
"I'd show it to you, but that journal was destroyed in a flash thunderstorm nine years ago, I had been out in the back yard reading it, sitting at the base of the old maple, when the storm came out of nowhere. In seconds it was pouring and lightning and thunder were all around.
"I became very scared, dropped the journal and ran into the house, then down into the basement. The storm continued raging out there for about an hour, midway through it, I heard a very big cracking sound, then a huge thud as the old maple toppled to the ground.
"The lightning strike that broke the tree was not the worst of it, though, a strike following that one hit that journal dead on; by the time they managed to clear the tree from the yard, all that was left of the journal was ashes except for one tiny piece of the cover."
Erin reached into a small pouch on her belt that Stasia hadn't noticed, then dropped a small bit of partially burned leather on the table.
"That is all that remains of that journal you mentioned?" Stasia inquired. A tear in one of Erin's eyes was the only answer she needed.
Erin picked up the fragment, put it back in her pouch, then returned to telling her story.
"It was about that same time that I found out how my father Alan died. I told you before that the witch LaFoy cursed my family, specifically stating that there would be people in each generation carrying both male and female sexual parts, what we refer to as genitals nowadays.
"Well, my father assumed that he was fairly normal, or at least not at risk of being part of the curse, as he had entered his male puberty about two months before his eighteenth birthday. He met my mother about six weeks after that birthday and fell in love with her from the very start.
"Three months later, after getting approval from both sets of parents, he married her. I was conceived about five weeks after the wedding.
"From what I've been told by my mother, she found out she was pregnant about a month after conception. Of course, with a definite positive result, she told my father and then passed it on to the rest of the family. Everyone was happy, then our lives took a darker turn.
"My father had been having cramps in the lower abdomen periodically for several months, slowly increasing in intensity. He didn't realize it, but he was actually intersexed and the cramps were his menses as his female organs developed and became fully functional.
He pretty much just ignored it, never even bothered to get checked out and so it continued to become more intense as the months passed. About a month before his nineteenth birthday, it all came crashing down on him thanks to a tiny fragment of bone that had been chipped off the edge of a rib and lodged on the upper wall of an artery when he had slammed into a doorway somewhere a few days earlier.
"The fragment stayed there for a day or so, then a strong flow of arterial blood picked it up and carried it to his fully developed uterus. Two days later, the cramps started again, and about twelve hours after that, the bone fragment was swept out of the womb.
"It didn't take very long for the fragment to reach the closed layers of skin where the vagina would be on a normal girl. There was a very slight tear between the connected tissues and that sharp fragment of bone slammed into that very spot with the force of a miniature tidal wave.
"The tiny tear opened wide as the sets of vaginal lips were forced open and the blood poured out, it wasn't pretty. He immediately felt the wetness in his underwear and ran to the bathroom, stripping as fast as possible, only to see the whole crotch of his jeans were soaked.
"The actual 'flood' didn't last more than a minute or two, but a quick look in the mirror showed him the truth, it couldn't be denied. He freaked out for a moment, shattering the bathroom mirror with a closed fist, then ran into the small office where he kept a gun locker.
"He pulled out the sawed off double barrel shotgun, loaded both barrels, sat down, shoved the barrels in his mouth and pulled both triggers."
Erin stopped speaking. Both girls noticed their cups were empty and went to refill them, then sat down at the table again.
"Oh my, that must have been a horrible sight for your mother to find," Stasia remarked.
"Yes. There's not much left to tell now. Except for me, every other person in the family that has ended up with both sets of sex characteristics became fully functional before their twentieth birthdays. That wasn't the case for me, with no signs of puberty until about four years ago.
"Well, that's not entirely true, there were signs that something was happening, but they weren't easy to spot. As far as the doctors could tell, my hormones, both testosterone and estrogen, were at insanely low levels until a year or so ago, with estrogen being slightly stronger.
"It eventually became obvious that I had a bit wider hips than was normal for a supposed boy, and a little breast growth, perhaps an A cup, by the time my 22nd birthday passed. A few months after that birthday, my body started kicking into gear, producing estrogen on a level similar to that of many 14 or 15 year old girls. The male side was a bit slower, but did ramp up a few months later, and Johnny is fully functional.
"It was around that time that they did some medical tests and found a complete female reproductive system inside me, the only issue was that it had no egress, so I went in for a small operation where they did a quick snip or two at the point where the vagina normally is; while they were doing the bit of snipping, they found that there were inner and outer labia present, but like my father, they had grown together.
"I wasn't fully functional on both sides of the gender equation until just before my 24th birthday. I spoke to a cousin still living in the UK a few months ago and found out there have been no new cases of children in the family developing as hermaphrodites for six months before that.
The few bits of the curse that I can remember offhand are as follows:
"Be intertwined, both boy and girl
As energies gather and swirl,
Girl and boy in one body bound,
Many to come 'fore one is found;
Each twined soul shall find their form
At age for which it is the norm,
Until the time that brings my heir
With pow'r over ground, sea and air."
Erin remarked, "There's a lot of the rest of it that I don't remember, but I do recall the last two lines:
"When one comes late, both girl and boy,
The curse shall end say I, LaFoy."
Erin giggled and smiled at Stasia, "And now to show you the proof of my tale. Watch closely."
Erin focused intently for a moment, then a very bright flame appeared on her palm, seemingly dancing, blue-white and about two inches high.
Stasia was stunned, she gaped at the bright flame dancing on Erin's palm. "There's real magic in the world?!" she gasped.
"Indeed," Erin replied, "This is the least of what I can do, but most other spells might cause great harm if I used them, so I won't." She focused again for just a second or two and the flame that had been dancing on her palm winked out. "I am Cambra LaFoy's heir to the magic."
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