A Picture is Worth...
Standing in front of the plain, wooden door, Cammi doubted her shaky decision to come here. Lorcán’s explanations and arguments had been plenty convincing at the time, but now those same arguments seemed like the worst reasons to travel halfway across the globe to stand in an ancient tavern in Ireland. Being hours from the nearest major city didn’t quell her anxiety, either.
So what if her father wasn’t from where he had always said? So what if she was descended from a long line of kings and queens from a magical land? So what if going back to this land would give her the answers she wanted? I was perfectly content with my life as it was, I should have just taken care of my father’s estate, and then gone back to the laboratory to my test tubes and beakers. The thought wasn't true, but Cammi had a hard time admitting it. If she was honest, a small part of her always regretted the falling out she had with her father, and this trip—this exploration—into her past was a way for her to mend it. Taking this step would supposedly reveal the truth of her identity; something she had questioned her entire life. Still, how could her father have expected her to believe the tales he spun and never offer proof? Even now the clues he had left behind for her could hardly be called evidence.
What was she supposed to think when all she found after digging through a dusty attic was an old Celtic-knotted wooden chest stashed with a worn leather pack, an old camera from who knows what year, a wooden emu-sized egg, and four lines of mysterious text written in her father’s hand? As much as Cammi liked solving chemical equations to find the balanced formulas, she hated riddles. What her father wrote wasn’t technically a riddle, but it was close enough to one that it still frustrated her.
The Camera holds the Question
An Egg the heirloom Jewel
Beware the Crow & Bone
The Crown yours alone to rule
At least I was able to solve the second line of my father’s inane words, she thought. Cammi touched the faceted teardrop ruby resting against her chest. As soon as she touched the piece, a jolt sent her to a flashback of a woman with kind eyes, and a lovely smile spread unbidden across her face. It was the same vision every time her fingers fiddled with the gem. The necklace had been her mother’s. The truth of that knowledge buried deep in the recesses of her memory and, according to Lorcán, the jewel had belonged to her mother’s family for generations.
“Are ye ready, Cameron?” Lorcán asked, his voice smooth with just a hint of an Irish lilt tinting the words. His accent matched perfectly with his chestnut hair and warm brown eyes. He was the embodiment of every highland warrior depicted; a complete contrast to her rich strawberry curls, soft curves, and pale skin. Her cheeks flamed at her comparison of him to the caledonian novels she liked to read.
Cammi looked down at the ridiculous clothing Lorcán had strongly advised she wear and sighed as doubt creeped through her mind. She picked aimlessly at the gilded thread of her medieval-esque dress. Was she ready? I was an idiot for quitting my job. Yes, I was definitely an idiot. I hardly know this man, and despite what he says about my family lineage, it’s just too fantastic to be true. And this business with the Crow family? That's just insane! What if this is all for nothing, and I don’t truly learn who I am?
“Cameron?” He asked again, his voice cutting through the rabbit trail of her thoughts.
“I’m not at all ready, Lorcán. This was a mistake, I still don’t know what my father meant in his riddle, and this is just folly,” she said.
Quietly, he said, “You are the—”
“I know what you told me. That doesn’t mean I believe a word of it,” Cammi snapped, glancing up when Lorcán didn’t answer. The grim line of his mouth didn’t offer her a pea’s worth of confidence. “Let’s just do this before I convince myself otherwise.”
Cammi closed her eyes and held out her hand, waiting for Lorcán to lead her through the supposed portal.
She felt him take her hand and immediately a strange tingling washed over her skin and an uncomfortable prickle danced along her scalp. When she opened her eyes, Cammi saw nothing but fields of green and a sad sky. The transition to this supposed magic world was lack-luster, and her new surroundings looked the same as any other place in Ireland. Had they simply stepped out the back door?
“Are you kidding me? This can’t be Drakota!”
“DRI-achk-Tah,” Lorcán said, “and I assure you, this is Draíochta, the land of your mother and father.”
Cammi narrowed her eyes. Anger churned in her stomach as it elevated to her chest, anger at her own stupidity heated her pale-skinned and freckled cheeks.
“You’ve tricked me. I can’t believe I believed this nonsense! Take me back now!” She punctuated the last word of her exclamation with a flourish of her arm and a bolt of white-hot light seared the rich grass a few feet from her position.
Cammi gaped as her eyes flickered between her palm and the ruined patch of grass, words failing her like they never had before.
“Are ya startin’ to believe it now, Cameron?”
Though he tried to hide it, she could hear the slight satisfaction in his voice.
Cammi attempted several statements, opening and closing her mouth as if arguing with herself before finally settling upon, “But...but magic doesn’t exist.”
Lorcán raised a single brow as if he couldn’t believe she was being so dense.
“Your father was right when he said you’d be as stubborn as a mule.”
Cammi glared at her guide. Straightening her chin, she added a little intimidation to her stance. “I am not stubborn.”
Lorcán simply shook his head and turned to the small rise behind them, disappearing over the other side.
“I am not stubborn,” she mumbled to the grass before trudging after this man she barely knew, but who was now the only person with answers in this strange land of magic...and nonsense.
Toeing the charred grass where the bolt of magic had struck as she passed, Cammi decided that if the damaging light from her palm wasn’t enough evidence that this was a different place, that she was different, as Lorcán had said, then she should at least wait to gather more data before bailing on the idea completely. The persistent thought telling her that this journey would reveal her identity also wouldn’t be hushed despite her efforts to silence the chatterbox.
At the crest of the hill Cammi saw that the ground sloped down to a small stand of trees where Lorcán stood next to two tethered horses. She descended mutely and mounted, following him into the unknown. The next two hours whizzed by, and soon Cammi edged her horse into the center of a small number of thatch-roofed buildings. It was a dramatic change from the persistent rolling sea of emerald hills. This, of course, is what she expected based on the pictures developed from the film inside the camera she had found in the chest. Dad wasn’t kidding when he said ‘The Camera holds the Question’, but at least I’m beginning to get some answers. This made her feel better about the situation, microscopically, but at least it eased some of her doubts.
The main dirt-packed thoroughfare was empty save for a few villagers walking the street with shoulders hunched against the brisk wind coming off the hills. A heavy dolor settled cumbersomely upon on her shoulders. “Lorcán, why do these people seem so sad?”
“It’s the Crow family, to be sure. Ever since your father left to protect you and your mother was executed they’ve kept Draíochta bent to their will.”
“And according to my father and you, I have the power to free these people from oppression,” Cammi stated.
“Aye, as your father’s words said—”
“I know what they said,” Cammi stopped him before he could utter words she didn’t want to hear—again.
“I really wish ye’d stop cuttin’ me off,” Lorcán replied. “Just because you don’t believe it doesn’t mean you can ignore the facts spittin’ at ya in the face.”
“Thank you for that lovely picture, LORE-can,” Cammi purposely emphasizing his name to annoy him. It was childish, but her voice was one thing she had control over at the moment, and she needed to feel like there was something in her life she could still control. “It still doesn’t change the fact that I don’t really know who I am here”—she gestured aimlessly at her surroundings—“You didn’t even know what my father meant by ‘Beware the Crow and Bone’ other than the family name.”
Lorcán swung down from his horse and peered up at her. “Magic is not my specialty, Cameron. I fight with sword, spear, and shield as my father did before me. The arcane is for those of royal blood only.”
Cammi sighed. She’d heard the same response several times from him already. What the blazes was she supposed to do with magic when she had not an inkling of an idea how to use it? For that matter, what was the point of having the knowledge she had magic and not really being able to use it? It was not how things should be done. Life should be ordered and precise, not this messy stumbling business she was experiencing. And just like that, she was back to berating herself for leaving the familiarity of her life.
“Come inside, Cameron. We’ll get ye fed and all will look brighter on the other side of full stomach.”
Cammi nodded and reticently followed her guide into the small hut.
Lorcán had been right, of course, a full stomach did wonders for her mental abilities, and she had come to several conclusions in the hour it took to be served and eat her meal, but sadly it didn’t ease her worries. In the din of the fire-lit room she blurted, “Lorcán, I need a teacher. I’m willing to learn, but I need guidance. I don’t remember my mother, but I’ll accept who she was and, I suppose, what I need to be, but I can’t take on a family of magicians without some training.”
Lorcán nodded. “Luckily, you’re not alone. There is still one member of your family alive. We’ve protected him all these years waiting for your return.”
Cammie stared at him, confusion, shock, and anger registering in quick succession on her face. “Wh-what?!” She sputtered, her voice rising and heat flooding her face. Shoving an aggressive finger in his direction, she seethed, “You said I was the last, you said I was the only one who could do this, and now you say there’s someone else?!”
Lorcán gently lowered her hand to rest on the table. “Take a breath, lass, all is as I said it was. You have a family member here, sure, but you really are the only one who can fight back against the Crows. You’ll see.”
Cammi fumed the entire long and terse journey on horseback that ended at a tiny hut hours away from any civilization. And when they entered Cammi did see, as she stood in front of a nearly crippled old man who was barely able to stand. It was obvious he would be useless in a fight, and Cammi didn’t think he inspired much confidence as a teacher, either.
“Cameron, I’d like you to meet your grandfather, Séamus,” Lorcán said, gesturing to the thin, white-haired man before her.
A thin exhale escaped the man before he said, “You look just like my Aoife.” He pronounced it EE-fya.
Lorcán leaned over and whispered, “That was your grandmother.”
The old man, her grandfather, continued, “I never thought I would live to see the redemption of Draíochta. You, as the new bearer of our family’s magic, have much to learn.”
Several weeks later saw Cammi struggling while again attempting to control a pulsing white-hot ball of magic between her fingers, a feat she had yet to accomplish to her grandfather’s satisfaction. He wasn’t kidding when he said I had much to learn, she thought. She’d lost count at this point how many times she’d practiced her magic in the weeks that had past. Cammi admitted she had come a long way, but the study was worse than cramming for her college exams. Couldn’t he give her at least a little credit? All of this was still relatively new and Her brain felt addled. Not to mention there was a constant fear in the back of her mind that all this practice would draw attention to her before she could defend herself. The last thing she wanted was to be suddenly attacked and utterly useless. It didn’t matter that both her grandfather and Lorcán assured her that they were far enough away from the castle for the Crow Family to notice, the fear niggled, unrelenting.
Cammi shot a bolt of magic into the hills before her. The sudden light left her a little dazed as colors and afterimages danced before her eyes. She blinked to clear her head, then blinked again, but one of the images, of a man standing on a distant hilltop, seemed to get clearer instead of fading, and she wondered if it was just her imagination. “Lorcán, do you see that man?” She pointed to where she could still see the man standing.
Tension radiated from her friend as he quickly moved from passive observer to stand in front of her, shielding her with his body. As if signaled, the man winked out of existence and a black bird flew off into the bright sky.
“I have a bad feeling about that,” Cammi said.
“As ye should, child,” her grandfather wheezed beside her. “That was a member of the Crow. And despite my eyes, it seems that was the eldest prince just now.”
“How do ye know?” Lorcán asked.
“Everyone’s magic feels different, lad. Families have commonalities, but that young man’s magic is unique to him alone. I have felt his once before. Daragh is his name and he is the carrier of his family’s magic.” Séamus spit on the ground at his feet.
At her grandfather’s words, she visibly shook, unable to control the fear coursing through her. Beware the Crow and Bone, her father’s warning echoed through her mind. I can’t do this. I can’t be this land’s savior. I can’t...
Cammi fell hard as blackness filled her vision. Dimly, in the recesses of her mind, she heard her name being called, but the voice couldn’t pull her from the panic drowning out every one of her senses. That was until a zap from the crown of her head jolted her to awareness. “WHAT WAS THAT FOR?” She frowned at her grandfather while rubbing the spot he had touched.
“Well, it worked, didn’t it?” Séamus replied, unapologetic.
“Séamus, we don’t have much longer. We need to take Cameron to the capital now,” Lorcán said.
“I agree with ye.”
“Wait, what? I’m not ready!”—Cammi gestured vaguely in the direction the man had been—“That guy could turn himself into a bird! What makes you think I’m ready to face the power-hungry prince of the Crow family?”
Lorcán gave her a look of concern which was not at all reassuring. She turned to her grandfather who donned the same look.
“Well?” She asked.
“You’re outta time, Cameron,” Lorcán said, uselessly. “They know you’re here now, either we attack or they do.”
Séamus scooted over to her position and gripped her hands with surprising strength for someone so shriveled. “Cameron, child, I know you’re scared, but ye have power inside ye that the Crow family only dreams about. You are the true ruler of these lands, and ye need to believe in yourself, restore what is rightfully yours. I’ve told you before you have the guidance of yer ancestors to call upon.”
Cammi yanked her hands from her grandfather’s grasp. “You are both are insane. Worse, I’m insane for having come here in the first place!” She turned, intending to storm away, but the confounded skirts of her long dress twisted around her legs and she ended up on her hands and knees, gulping in heavy breaths. “No! Don’t touch me Lorcán. Just both of you, leave me alone.” This time she executed her exit of rage smoothly and put as much distance as she could between herself and the two men that had, in league with her father, ruined her life.
Several hours later, Cammi sheepishly pushed her way inside Séamus’ small hut. She had had every intention of heading straight to her sleeping mat, but both men were awake and had locked their gazes on her as soon as she entered, relief melting over their faces.
Cammi broke the silence, “So...”
Lorcán popped up from his seat, the handmade chair creaking in protest of the sudden movement, and in three quick strides mushed her into the folds a hug. “I’ve been beside myself wondering where ye were. You shouldn’t go off like that.”
Lorcán’s action stiffened Cammi’s spine, but she found herself quickly relaxing. The weeks by his side had softened her feelings toward him. There was something deeply comforting in his care and worry. She had been truly missed. When she didn’t think her cheeks could get any more flushed, she gave a mild indication for Lorcán to release her. At least the room had dull lighting to hide the blush surfacing from Lorcán’s behavior. She moved closer to the fire to burn away the chill that had settled into the tips of her fingers from her brisk walk.
“I’m not at all ready to face the Crows, but I do know that I have little choice. If they are as ruthless as you say, Séamus, my level of preparedness will mean nothing to them,” Cammi said, barely above a whisper. “Lorcán, will you take me to the capital tomorrow?”
“Aye, and it’ll be an honor to stand by your side, no matter the trial.”
The next day was a flurry of preparations punctuated by last-minute advice from Séamus, and then they were on the road to the capital. Cammi’s mind was so full that the two-day ride seemed like no time at all, and then she was in the town’s center, standing next to Lorcán and dressed in uncomfortable battle gear—thick leathers strapped over itchy wool—staring at the crown prince of the Crow family. This really is totally insane, I better be making both of my parents proud. Despite annoyance at the path of her life in these few short weeks, Cammi couldn’t bring herself to regret the decision to come to Draíochta. She had come to discover an integral element of her as a person. The last few weeks solved a puzzle she had been trying to piece together her entire life. She was royalty, the last of the true heirs to the throne of Draíochta. If she died today at the hands of Daragh, she at least knew her identity.
“You should have stayed away,” the prince shouted across the space separating them. “I will kill the last of the O’Shea line and my family will rule this land forevermore.”
Uhg. Does he have to be so formal? Who even uses forevermore now? “Well, I don’t think that’s a good idea. I quite like the fact that my heart is beating.”
The prince glared at her in disgust. “Enough! I will not banter with you.”
Too bad. “So my delay tactics are not working and you’re not feeling any sympathy for me as a cousin?”
The prince snarled before speaking an incantation. A chest-high pillar appeared next to him and, when it had fully materialized, Cammi’s vision was sucked into another space where she saw the faces of hundreds of men and women, the last of which was her mother. She was certain of it, these were her ancestors. The prince’s voice brought her mind back to the square.
“I will add the ashes of your bones to this vessel and have more power than the O’Shea family ever dreamed!”
Cammi felt the last clue suddenly click into place in her brain. “Lorcán, I get it now!” She pointed to the pillar carved with beautiful Celtic knots. “Beware the Crow and Bone.”
“That’s lovely, Cameron, but I think that’s the least of our worries at the moment,” he replied.
Cammi sidled closer to ensure the prince would not hear her. “That’s it though! If we can remove the pillar, we remove his main source of power.”
Lorcán’s face turned pale. “You mean...”
“Yes,” she responded, the knowledge sobering her tone. “I’ll distract him and you work to knock that thing over and dump out the ashes.”
“I don’t like leavin’ ye so exposed.”
“We don’t have a choice.”
Lorcán nodded. “I’ll follow yer lead, my queen.”
With those words, he turned and ran in the opposite direction of the fight. Cammi gaped after him, too shocked even to speak, but when the sound of the prince’s laughter drifted across the yards between them, she understood exactly what Lorcán was doing. She smirked. Smart, smart man.
Cammi turned back to her opponent with a glower. This man was the wielder of his family’s magic, the majority of which they had stolen by killing the O’Shea family, her family. Anger welled beneath her skin, ready to burst out of her like blood from a fresh cut. She used the emotion to fuel a lightning reaction, sending a bolt of white-hot magic toward the gloating prince.
He did something to protect himself from the stinging force, but he was only fast enough to keep the magic from blackening his clothes and body. The force of the magic she had hurled at him still set him off balance and the prince stumbled back for several ungainly steps. Without stopping her attack, Cammi hurled another bolt at her enemy, advancing on his position; her only intention was to separate him from the pillar. The repetitive spell wasn’t a good use of her magic and she wished she had a better grasp on the things she was taught, but at least what she knew was working, for the moment.
The prince sent a thrumming blue ball of energy in her direction and instead of a shield she dodged out of the way—barely. Those last minute fighting lessons Lorcán forced on me were actually useful, Cammi dodged another spell, glad that she had decent reflexes, yet she knew this couldn’t continue. Eventually, the prince would find himself with the upper hand. It was only a matter of time, and she wasn’t sure how much she had available.
She needed to get the prince facing away from the pillar. If I tried to circle him, it would only bring him closer to it. Cammi flicked her eyes to the nearest building, a horse stable currently filled with loud thumping and panicked whinnies, and she thought that maybe she could inch her way behind it to blind her opponent to Lorcán’s movements. It’s not an entirely perfect plan, but it’s the best one I’ve got.
“Do you really believe you can defeat me?” Daragh mocked.
“I don’t have high hopes, no,” Cammi said, and then added, “but I’m going to give it a good try.”
“You are a pest in my eyes. I shall be glad to be rid of you.”
Cammi threw another bolt of magic at the prince before ducking out of his line of sight around the side of the barn, forcing him to follow. She made it nearly to the end of the structure when heat singed her heels. She spun around and threw up a shield of magic just as another burst of flame engulfed her vision. This better be enough for Lorcán, she thought before having to again concentrate on the prince. A wash of tingling electricity hit her. Come on, Lorcán! I can’t hold this guy off forever!
As she screwed her eyes shut, preparing for another hit of magic, a primal scream touched her ears. The sound didn’t emanate from her lips. Cammi peaked between her fingers in time to see the prince turn the corner. She raced after him in just enough time to see Lorcán flown back from a spell flung at the shield protecting his chest.
“No!” Cammi screamed. Everything in her wanted to run to the only friend she had in this world, to make sure he was alive, to get him to safety. The reality was that they were both still in very real danger. Lorcán would want her to protect herself and finish the prince. Despite how little she knew of Draíochta and of her parents, this was her heritage, and she wanted to fight for something that was dear to their hearts. Besides a few faded photographs, this world was all the connection she had left to them.
Cammi sent a bolt of magic at the prince. Just enough to distract him so she could turn brief attention to the tipped pillar holding her family’s remains. She wanted to burn it all. An arc of lightning would certainly do that trick. Pointing at the pillar, the first arc of magic did nothing but create a loud, hissing pop, but the vessel looked different now than it did before. She wasted no time and flung another arc of lightning with as much power as she could muster. The pillar popped in the air from the jolt and immediately caught flame. Yellow, orange, red, and white caresses of fire easily turned the dry, wooden piece to ash.
She gasped. Her necklace glowed effulgently and by the second power flooded her limbs. This is so much more than what Séamus meant by me having access to power. She was now the full carrier of her family’s magic, like her mother and grandfather had been.
“You little wi—” the prince snarled at her, attempting to rise from the cobbled street. His legs were as unstable as a newborn foal.
“I wouldn’t insult me now if I were you.”
Another animal scream escaped his throat as the prince lunged for her. Cammi flinched, but the weakened prince hadn’t even made it an inch forward. Lorcán, a little worse for wear, shoved the prince back with his blackened shield. Daragh’s head cracked against the cobbled streets, making Cammi wince.
“Think ye can summon some rope, Cameron?” Lorcán said not taking his eyes off the unconscious form, his voice rasping and rough.
She grinned. “I think I can manage that.”
A mayhem of hours and days later, Cammi, Lorcán, and a batch of royal soldiers had successfully seen to the removal of the Crow family from the castle and their subsequent expulsion from Draíochta. She had been wary of sending such an evil family out into the world she had come from, but felt comforted by the fact that they would not have any magic available to them and were given a generous sum from the royal reserves to help them in their new life. It was more grace than they deserved.
Those same whirlwind days saw to the clean-up of the citadel. Her fight with the prince had done more damage than she originally thought. Fresh-hewn wood replaced charred exteriors and crisp stones gave new strength to buildings having seen better days. The land as a whole seemed to respond to the coup with a deep, cleansing breath.
Cammi barely had a moment to bask in her victory before a crown of woven gold and rubies was placed on her head. It matched her necklace perfectly. Reports of celebrations across the lands filtered their way into the royal grounds, even as the citadel rejoiced in her victory.
“How does it feel to put all to right, my queen?” Lorcán said from his place to her left, keeping his eyes on the dancing crowd.
“It feels good and terrifying. This is what my father would have wanted, but the hope of the people is riding on my shoulders,” Cammi replied. “I’ve never been a leader. What if I can’t be what the people expect?”
“Aye, but ye have friends here, Cameron.”
Cammi grabbed a peek at Lorcán. “Would you call yourself a friend or just my protector?”
“My duty is to protect you.”
“So you will be a quiet shadow for the rest of my days?”
“If that is what you wish of me, my queen.”
She huffed. “That’s not what I asked, Lorcán.”
Her protector took a heavy breath, as if the air was a weight to his lungs. “I’d be lying to myself, and to you, if I said yes.”
Cammi twisted to look at her guard. “You would consider, then, being my friend, my protector, my confidant? As protocol would dictate—so I’ve been told—you would consider the possibility of sitting at my right hand?”
Lorcán lurched as if someone had shoved him. The gape of his mouth said more than his words could. “My father made sure I understood my place as protector of the royals. I didn’t think ye saw me any different. I didn’t dare hope to,” he responded quietly.
“I think that’s for me to decide your place. Turns out spending a lot of time with someone will endear you to them,” Cammi smirked. “I’m by no means ready for marriage, but I would like to court you...if you’d find that agreeable.”
Lorcán grinned at her. “Aye, I’d be agreeable to that...Cammi.”
She laughed. “Then, let’s dance!”
#ShortStory #original #Ireland #Magic #Arcane #IndieWriter #Writing