Monday, August 20, 2018

Brigid's Fire by David W. Landrum

Musician Mathias Berends meets an Irish goddess, but her sister is determined to keep them apart; by David W. Landrum.

Brigid told Mathias she had come from Ireland as an exchange student. She said she liked the sequence of songs about fire he often did when he performed.

"How did you decide to do something like that?" she asked.

He smiled. "I got the idea from something I saw on TV once. I laughed and laughed. It gave me the idea for a new routine."

"People seem to like it."

He loved her Irish brogue, pretty face, and marvelous legs.

"They seem to," he answered, I've gotten a lot of good gigs since I started doing it. But enough about my musical career. What are you studying over here?"

"Mythology. I'm doing a degree in comparative literature with emphasis on Celtic story and how it relates to myth."

"What's your favorite Celtic story?"

"There are lots of them. Let me think."

He delighted to see her face contract just slightly in concentration and her eyes fill with thought. She had flowing, curly red hair, blue eyes, fair skin, and freckles. Her body was long and straight: long legs and arms, a long trunk, long fingers. He loved the riot of curls that fell to her shoulders, her pretty knees and thighs visible in the short dress she wore.

"I suppose it might be... can't decide. I love them all."

"Maybe I can buy you coffee tomorrow. You'll have thought of it by then."

"I'd like that."

"Sparrows - the coffee bar close to Wealthy and Diamond?"

"Yes, I know it. That would be wonderful."

He went up on stage for the second part of the show - regular covers, no fire songs. He didn't see her go, but at some point he missed her face in the crowd of concert-goers.



He wondered if she would be at Sparrow's, but at 1:00 she called and said she would meet him there. He walked the three blocks from his house and found her sitting in a booth. He ordered lattes. She had tied up her hair and wore a winter coat.

"Brrrrr," she said.

"It doesn't get this cold in Ireland?"

"Sometimes. But I like to stay warm. I always loitered around the fireplace at home this time of year."

"Your house was heated by a fireplace?"

"A lot of homes in Ireland are heated with wood or peat. They have hearths. A lot is lost by not having a hearth. It's the center of the house and represented the warmth of family."

"Was it a part of myth?"

"Very much. Every culture in the ancient world - even if they weren't in the northern climes - recognized as much. It was a universal myth because it illustrated a basic truth."

"Which was?"

"Well" - and here she shed her coat. She wore a white blouse embroidered with Celtic knots, a denim miniskirt, and boots. She flipped her hair out of her eyes.

"Warmth is life. The hearth represented warmth. It was the place heat came into the home to sustain people, to keep them warm in winter, and to cook food all year round. And it was symbolic of -"

She stopped. He looked at her questioningly.

"What's the word you use here?"

"For what?"

"You know. In Ireland we say" - she lowered her voice and looked around to make sure no one could hear her - "cunt, but people told me that's considered a nasty and demeaning word over here. But I said it and you know what it means. It is the center of warmth in a woman's body - and it even resembles a hearth a little bit, if you use your imagination. Seed goes into it, children are born out of it, and it gives pleasure, like a fire on a cold day - and comfort and security."

"That's beautiful."

"It certainly is. It's a pity so few people have hearths now. For that matter, not many people understand or feel reverence for the human body and the warmth of its life."

He did not know how to answer this. They sipped their drinks in silence for a time.

"Every culture had a goddess of the hearth - Hestia and Vesta in Greek and Roman society; Caia, Gabija, Nantosuelta - and me."

He squinted. "You?"

She laughed. "My name, I mean. Brigid was the Celtic goddess of the hearth and of fire - among other things."

"I thought she was a saint."

"The Christians knew better than to get rid of her, so when they took control of things they changed Brigid the goddess into a saint."

"Did it work?"

"Sort of."

They drank their lattes. The subject turned to the beauties of the Irish countryside. He listened as she went on and on about it. After a while, she smiled sheepishly.

"I got carried away. I'm sorry."

"Not at all. I enjoyed listening."

"Are you from around here, Mathias?"

"No. I grew up in Indiana."

"Tell me about it."

He gathered his thoughts.

"It's flat - no mountains. A lot of people think the land is boring and uninteresting because it's so flat and maybe not spectacular. But if you grow up there, you understand the sweep of the land. You can see for miles in all directions and you feel the land roll over you and you have the sensation of being carried by it and caught up by it - being a part of it, though that sounds kind of silly."

"Not silly," she said, leaning forward so her face was closer to his.

"Since it may be a little plainer than, say, mountains or shorelines, you learn to see the beauty in simple things and how the land is... shaped and configured. I hope I'm not getting too carried away."

She slipped on her coat.

"Let's go to my place," she said.

"Where do you live?"

"Just down the street."

They walked to a brownstone two blocks down Wealthy Street. Brigid had an apartment on the second floor. Once inside, he kissed her. She had a sweet mouth. He touched her breasts. Her fingertips traced his jawline.

"Let me get ready," she said.

He nodded. She went in an adjoining room. He heard water running and then sound of someone washing - not a shower or bath but washing with a cloth. After a moment, she called.

He went into her bedroom. She stood in the glow he had noticed (he did not see lights or lamps). Her hair cascaded downward, framing her small shoulders and sculpted arms, ribcage strong, stomach flat and rippled, sloping down to her sturdy legs framing a tuft of lovely red hair above her mound. Her nipples and face glowed with the strange light that suffused her place. When he kissed her he realized she had anointed herself with scented oil.

She pulled at his clothing. When he had undressed he carried her to a simply made, antique bed and set her down. She opened her arms to him.

Brigid rolled, moaned, wriggled, shouted, bit his ears, cheeks, and shoulders. A stream of melodic talk came from her lips - Gaelic, he supposed. She gently pounded his back with her fists. Then she got quieter, wrapped her legs around him, squeezed him with her arms, tightened and, after just a moment, shuddered as a spasm shook her. She settled back. He drove deeper as she lay limp in his arms. Moments later, he finished. They rolled on their sides.

Mathias basked in the glow in her bedroom and stroked the red hair under her arms.

"I haven't started shaving there," she explained. "I guess I should if I'm going to live here."

"It's beautiful," he said, gently ruffing it.

She murmured with pleasure.

"I had a lover once who could do what you're doing now - he could stroke the hair under my arms without tickling me." She enjoyed the sensation. After a long silence, he said, "I haven't had it quite a while."

He smiled. "I find that difficult to believe. As beautiful as you are, I would imagine you had your choice of men." When she did not reply, he asked, thinking it might lighten her mood, "How long?"

"Thirty years, at least." He laughed. After a while, she asked, "Ever have problems with gangs around here?"

"No. Not really."

The area had undergone gentrification the last ten years. Gangs had once been a problem, but the boutiques, coffee shops, bars and niche businesses all about had largely pacified this part of the street.

"You might have some trouble."

"Why do you think that?"

"I just get the idea."

They lay together a long while, not saying much. Brigid got up, threw on a smock, and poured wine for them. He put on pants and a t-shirt.

"I notice the lighting," Mathias said. "I really like it, but I don't see any bulbs or lamps - nothing."

"Indirect lighting," she answered. "Hard to explain."

"You're sweet," he said.

They talked aimlessly, sometimes sitting for long periods in silence, enjoying each other's presence.

"I have a show tonight," Mathias said after an hour or so of quiet and intermediate talk.

"Where?"

"Four Friends Coffee House. I'll be solo."

"Are you doing your fire sequence?"

"The whole thing. Will you be there?"

"I might be a little late, but I'll be there."

He left, went back to his place, slept contentedly, woke up at five, and got ready for his concert at the Four Friends.

A long, narrow room with a coffee bar to one side, the Four Friends offered an intimate atmosphere for music. As he set up and tuned his guitar, he noticed a Goth girl - though she looked too old to be called a girl - she was at least thirty, and good-looking in the way women that age are pretty, with long hair that looked dyed black, black lipstick and eye-shadow. She wore a purple miniskirt, black hose, boots, and what looked like a leotard. Spiked bracelets encircled her wrists, she adorned herself with lots of rings, and hung an ankh about her neck. The ankh and black outfit made him think of Death in the Sandman series of graphic novels. He did not like the way she looked at him. Three tough-looking young men sat around her. He remembered Brigid's question about gangs.

He decided not to start with the fire sequence and began with "Sweet Baby James" followed up with "Cotton Jenny" from Gordon Lightfoot's The Summer Side of Life. When he finished, the woman yelled out, "Do the fire bit!"

Her beauty offset the rude, demanding tone of her question. He nodded and began to sequence.

He began with Arthur's Brown's "Fire" with considerably less energy than in the original; trying to mime the original with just an acoustic guitar would make it sound silly. He did a quirky, ironic version of it that pleased the crowd - though it did not seem to win the approval of the woman who had requested it. After going through the other songs in the sequence in a similar manner, he looked at her. She whispered something to one of her companions. He rose, walked up to the stage, and threw a tip in Mathias's open guitar case. He smiled and made an exaggerated bow. The woman scowled. He went into the standard numbers he did in coffee houses. Brigid showed up just as he was launching into the blues sequence with which he planned to end the performance.

The Goth woman seemed more pleased at his blues numbers. He did five pieces, ending with a fast version of "Statesboro Blues." The crowd applauded and called for an encore. He did "Saint Louis Blues" and gave a final bow. When he looked out at the audience he did not see Brigid.

He put away his guitar, all the while looking around her for and not seeing her. The owner paid him. He lingered, but when Brigid did not show up, he went out the back to the Ellis Parking lot that faced Pearl Street. The Goth woman and her three companions - who looked more like henchmen now - circled him. He looked around and saw no one near. His mouth went dry. He decided to muster up his courage and not act afraid. This part of town was too busy, even at night, for no one to notice an incident of intimidation or a mugging.

"So you didn't like my version of 'Light My Fire?'" he asked.

"You're funny," the woman said. She waved her hand - Mathias noticed the black fingernail polish. The three men walked off in three directions and vanished around corners. Mathias decided to speak so as not to give an advantage.

"Who are you?"

"My name is Morgan."

"And?"

"And what?"

"What do you want? I've already had it once today, so if you're planning to give me a blow job, you're going to be on your knees a long time before I come."

"Did you get your pleasure today from my sister, Brigid?"

Despite being shocked, he answered. "I did. And what's with you?" When she did not answer he said, "You two don't look like sisters."

"We are sisters of a different sort."

His guitar case began to feel heavy. "I really need to go," he said.

Just then he heard a loud, raucous sound - was it the cawing of crows? - and, simultaneously, saw a dream-like vision of this Morgan woman washing his bloody clothing in a stream. A painful stinging in his face snapped him back to reality. A large black bird had torn his cheek - not just pecked at him, but ripped his flesh open. He raised his hands to shield himself from two other birds sweeping down him. One tore at his scalp with its claws. He felt blood down the side of his head.

Then the noise ceased. Blake lowered his hands and opened his eyes. He saw Brigid standing beside of Morgan.

"What is the meaning of this?" Brigid demanded.

Morgan sulked. She looked down. Mathias gaped to see her three henchman lying about. They lay so still he thought they might be dead.

"How dare you, sister goddess?" Morgan snarled.

"How dare you harm a mortal who has not done you despite?"

"He invited me. I need new thralls."

"You need three more new ones now," Brigid said, gesturing. "You had better do something with their bodies before someone spots you and begins asking questions. You don't know how to navigate this time and age. You many think you do, but this excess demonstrates how much you are out of your place. I would suggest you abscond."

Morgan scowled. In a moment, she and the three bodies had vanished.

Mathias heard hurried footsteps. After a moment, a couple of young women and a police officer came running into the parking lot. They stopped cold, the women looking bewildered, the cop giving them a steely look.

"But we saw something," one of the girls protested. The cop spotted Mathias.

"Sir, are you all right?" he asked.

Mathias nodded.

"What happened?"

"Some thugs jumped him," Brigid said. "My boyfriend is pretty tough and knocked a couple of them down. I came running out of the Four Friends. I had my cellphone and they knew I called the police, so they ran."

"There was a woman too," one of the girls said. "A Goth chick."

"She seemed like she was in charge of the whole mess," the other one chimed in. "I heard her say her name was Morgan."

The cop looked at Mathias, whose head was bleeding.

"You need medical attention, sir," he said.

Mathias was still too stunned to reply. Brigid took his arm. "I'll get him to the emergency room."

"Yes, ma'am. Do you know anything about the people who attacked him?"

"Nothing, officer."

"Were required by law to file a report at the station if you were assaulted."

Mathias swayed dizzily. "He needs to see a doctor," Brigid said. She looked straight at the police officer and the girls. He fancied her eyes glowed slightly. "I don't think we need to report this. It will just be a lot of trouble."

All three of them stared at her, their expression uncomprehending, and then nodded in unity.

"I guess you're right," the cop said. He looked at the girls. They agreed. After a moment, the cop went one way, the two young women the other way.

Mathias wanted to ask what had just happened and why the officer and the girls had left so abruptly, but he wobbled and almost fell. "Woozy," he mumbled. "We better get to the ER."

Brigid touched him. He felt a surge of energy go through his body. His pain ceased. He reached up, feeling the blood on his head and face, but could detect no slash in his cheek or scalp.

"What in the bloody hell?" he began

"Quiet. Let me clean you up."

They went back into the Four Friends and slipped inside the men's room, locking the door. Brigid wetted coarse brown paper towels and washed the blood from his face, scalp, and hair. He stared at her.

"What is going on?"

"Quiet. Let's go to Flannagan's. I'll explain everything to you there."

They left the men's room. Two college-aged men saw them walk out together and smirked.

"I heard what you said to Morrigan and thought it was funny, but those boys probably thought I gave you a blow job just now," she said smiling as they exited and started across the parking lot. They crossed Pearl Street and walked into Flannagan's Irish Pub. A Celtic band - fiddles, guitars, penny whistles and flute - played near the front window. They found a table.

"Do you want something to drink?" he asked, still a bit dazed from all he had seen the last fifteen minutes or so.

"Guinness," she said. He wandered to the bar and ordered a Guinness for her and a Founders All Day IPA for himself. They sipped in silence, listening to the well-played, energetic music of the band. After a while, Brigid spoke.

"Morgan is Morrigan."

"Seems like I know her from Darkstalkers."

"Not exactly the same, but, yes. Only this Morrigan is the real thing: goddess of discord, battle, and death."

"And you?"

"As I told you at Sparrows, I am Brigid. I am an ancient goddess of the hearth and home - and a lot of things. But let's say goddess of fire for our purposes here."

"Setting aside the possibility that I'm stark, raving mad, why have two goddesses come down to visit me?"

"Don't you read mythology, Mathias? Goddesses get struck on mortals from time to time."

"I'm flattered. Do goddess always try to kill the men they get stuck on?"

"I don't. She does. Your little medley on fire got Morrigan attention."

"What do you mean?"

"You sang a lot of songs about fire. Morrigan is the goddess of discord, destruction, and bad things. She wants to control fire. Somehow she heard your singing and got... I guess we could say interested in you - but not like I'm interested in you."

"No?"

"She doesn't relate to men like that - or women or anyone. Morrigan is a virgin - not because she cherishes the beauty and simplicity of living a pure life, but because she is too selfish and too consumed with herself to give her body for pleasure or her soul in intimacy. If she is interested in a man, she kills him. He becomes her slave in the afterlife. That is the only way she knows to relate to others. It is an expression of her spirit. Unfortunately, your singing about fire - especially the song by Arthur that starts out, I am the God of hellfire and I bring you fire, attracted her and she has come for you."

"This is unbelievable."

"You had ample evidence of its truth just an hour ago. When you go to sleep tonight, you will receive a vision. When you awake, you will know the vision is true. For -"

When she did not finish her sentence, he raised his eyes questioningly.

"For now let's listen to the music. The players are playing it very well. It's authentic and I like it."

They stayed until the band finished. Fog had descended on Pearl Street by that time. They walked over to Rosa Parks Circle and kissed. Mathias thought it was a goodnight kiss.

"You can stay with me tonight," she said.

"Gladly."

They took his car to her place on Wealthy Street. He wondered if they would make love, but by the time he got inside, he felt overwhelmed with weariness. She helped him undress and went to bed with him. He felt the warmth of her body pressed against his and drifted off.



Mathias dreamed. In the dream, he was on what appeared to be a farm.

Brigid approached him. She did not wear her usual short skirt and embroidered blouse but a long dress, a woven top, and leather belt at her waist. He noticed she had on wooden shoes. She had put her hair in braids. She smiled broadly.

"Where am I?" he asked.

"At my farm in ancient Ireland in the distant past."

Mathias looked about. He saw blues skies, meadowland cut by streams, large grey rocks protruding through the grass. Off in the distance, a cluster of buildings occupied a hill. He turned to Brigid and picked up one of her braids.

"You look good with your hair tied up."

"Thank you. My sister braided my hair this morning."

"Sister. I know you can't mean Morrigan. You said she was your sister in some sense."

"The women here are not my sisters in that sense; but they are also not sisters in the sense you mean it - not children of my mother and father. Come. I'll introduce you to them."

Carefully avoiding piles of manure, they made their way to a brick building. Black smoke billowed from a large chimney at one end of it. Mathias smelled coal and caught the acrid scent of hot metal. As they approached the double door of the building, he saw a woman who looked very much like Brigid standing at a forge, hammering out what appeared to be a sword.

The woman had strong arms and wide shoulders. She had on a dress like the one Brigid wore but wore a leather apron and leather gloves that came past her elbows. She stared intently at the molten shape in front of her, hammered furiously but precisely, shaping the object in front of her, molding the white-hot iron, her face drawn with utmost concentration. She took no notice of Mathias or of Brigid.

"Don't speak in your normal voice," Brigid said softly. "Whisper. You must not distract her."

He stepped closer to her. "She looks like you," he whispered, stepping back.

She nodded they watched her forge the sword, swinging the two-pound sledge, her strong arms guiding it expertly. Sparks flew. Brigid finally motioned for Mathias to go. They walked out of the forge. The clanking of the hammer rang behind them.

"What's her name?" he asked.

"The same is mine."

He shot her a look. "How could that be?"

"Because she and I are the same person."

"You're talking in riddles."

"The answer to the riddle is my immortality. As a mortal, you live one existence and abide in one reality. As a goddess, I live in multiple realities, so it is that I can simultaneously be myself and another. The woman you saw at the forge was me but not me. I think you call it a 'manifestation,' though that is not a very accurate term. One can be many things simultaneously in the reality where I exist."

"Are you the goddess of the forge?"

"I am the goddess of fire - goddess of the hearth but also of the forge, and of poetry, which arises from fire in the heart and mind."

"So fire is the thing that ties together your functions as a goddess?"

"Somewhat. That is a good way for a mortal to understand it. But I am also the goddess of ponds and wells and of childbirth; of many other things. I feel like I'm lecturing you. Come."

They walked in silence to a small birch grove. A pond lay in the center of the trees. He looked down and then turned to face Brigid. Instead of the woman with whom he had been intimate, he saw Brigid the smith, shoulders wide, arms muscular, holding a sword still white hot, in front of her. Before he could even react, she thrust it forward, driving not the point but the whole length of the upright blade into Mathias's body.

It penetrated from his chin to his crotch. Pain shot thorough him, agony, burning that blinded him and voided the breath from his lungs. But it ceased immediately. His senses returned. He saw Brigid - the Brigid from the coffee house - looking as she looked in her earthly presence, except for the long dress and the braided hair.

"I gave you the sword to aid you in your fight with Morrigan," she explained.

"Fight? I have to fight her?"

"She will return for you. Morrigan has intruded into this era and hasn't taken the time to learn its ways. Me, I listen, I try to understand, I learn. She will not do that. She can't even read. I fuck, eat, drink, dance, and enjoy the amenities of this age. She does none of these things. She detests anything that gives pleasure or joy. So, yes, it is folly for her to focus on you simply because you sing a series of song about fire. Her ignorance makes you her focus."

"Will you fight for me?"

"I did once, Mathias. A goddess can oppose another goddess only once. To confront a sister in divinity a second time is wrong and dangerous and will bring judgment. I can arm you. I can advise you. I can't fight for you. The sword will help. You must only know how to use it."

"You stuffed the sword into my body. How can I get it out?"

She came close to him, kissed him, and put her head on his shoulder. She said, near to his ear. "The sword exists in the same way that goddesses exist as sisters. You have a powerful weapon, forged by the goddess of fire, sheathed within you to use against your enemies. You must learn to use it. I hate to speak in riddles. Know that they are only riddles because you cannot see beyond your limitations as a mortal. Wisdom will instruct you how to use the weapon. It is powerful. It will vanquish her."

"How in the hell can I -"

"Quiet. No more questions. Here."

She led him to the edge of a well. A wide circle of dark water pooled only three or four feet below them. He saw a stone staircase that led down to the well - a place where people could walk to its brim and fill jugs. Something troubled the waters. When they cleared, he saw Brigid looked up at him from below the once more smooth, transparent surface.

Her hair floated and she moved her hands back and forth as if treading water.

"Morrigan is incapable of love," she said.

She faded and vanished.

He looked around from the manifestation of Brigid which had brought him here. He did not see her. He saw the well, empty, the cattle grazing on the hillsides, the forge with no smoke coming from its chimney. It all faded to darkness. The darkness held him a moment. He felt its power. It deepened and enveloped him.

Then he opened his eyes. He was in his bedroom. A finger touched his lips.

"Don't utter what I said to you from the well. It is for you alone. If any other manifestation of my being hears it, the word I gave you will not be efficacious."

He nodded. She took her finger off his lips and, standing on her knees, straddled him. She pulled the white smock she wore over her head, revealing her beauty. She kissed, licked, and gently caressed him, which quickly had the desired effect. Brigid raised her hips, lowered herself, and began to move.

She moved up and down in a slow rhythm, tightening and loosening, pleasuring him and herself until she shook with an orgasm so intense she leaned her upper body forward and put her hands on his shoulders to steady herself. After she calmed, she pushed herself back up and moved more quickly and vigorously, bringing him to the point of pleasure.

Brigid lay down beside him. Both of them were so sated they did not talk. Mathias eventually drifted off to sleep. When he woke up, Brigid was dressed and sitting on a chair beside his bed.

"I have to go. Morrigan will come for you today. You must oppose her. I remind you: don't repeat what I said in my manifestation as oracle."

"I wanted to ask you what it meant."

"When the time comes you will know what they mean."

He sat up. "I know what they mean, damn it, I just need to know how to use them and the sword you gave me to fight against her."

"That will come to you if you trust."

He sighed and relaxed, lying back down.

"I wonder if I only dreamed it. How can I know all of this is even real?"

"Was what happened just a few moments ago real?"

"It was, but -"

"Look at your chest."

He scooted up the pillow to get an angle enough that he could see his chest. To his shock, a long, white scar ran from his right shoulder, down his torso, and stopped just to the left of his navel. He looked up at Brigid.

"No, it will not go away," she said, either reading his mind or understanding the question in his eyes. "It is a scar of honor. I must go now, Mathias. I can't assist you because I confronted Morrigan on the parking lot yesternight. I will come to you when you have won your victory and shown yourself a worthy champion."

And as if to underscore the fact that she was indeed a supernatural creature and to authenticate the reality of what he had seen in his vision, she vanished in a shower of golden sparks. When they faded, the room was empty of her presence.

More magic began to work.

Mathias went to the mirror to look at the scar. He ran his fingers along the line of white that bisected his upper body. As he did it, he felt a force pull upon him and felt something he would describe as a summons. He knew where he had to go and knew he had no choice of going there. Morrigan had summoned him. He could not disobey. To disobey the summons would forfeit the contest and he would be hers. He had to fight her. He dressed, put on warm garments and boots suitable for the terrain where he would face her. He paused but then remembered how hesitation never made a good strategy. He had played basketball in high school, not because he wanted to but because his parents had forced him to, and his coach, whom he had hated, often told the team, He who hesitates is lost. With the situation in which he now found himself Mathias finally recognized the wisdom of that saying - more than he ever recognized it in his basketball-playing days. He threw on a coat, went outside, started up his car, and headed for Millennium Park, where he knew he would face Morrigan.

Millennium Park, named for the year of its construction, covered 1500 acres just outside Grand Rapids. He parked in the main parking lot and walked to the long wooden trestle bridge just beyond the community center. No wind blew on him, and though it was cold sunlight and stillness made it bearable. Mathias thought a sunny winter day a beautiful occasion on which to fight. When he came to the end of the bridge, he saw her.

She hovered in the air, her body a foot above the ground. She did not wear a Goth outfit tonight but a black gown and a black purple-lined cape. Her hair and the cape swirled about her. Her eyes, evil and predatory, settled on him. An ugly smile came to her face.

Now you are mine, she said. Her lips did not move and he heard it not with his ears but in his head. That little slut Brigid, my sister, who will open her thighs to any mortal she takes a fancy to, has given you the pleasure of her body. It will be the last pleasure you know. I will take you to my kingdom to be my thrall. She cannot defend you now.

With that, darkness came, rolling over him in an overwhelming wave that seemed to unmake him. He felt himself coming apart - not his physical body but his soul unwinding and unraveling, dissolving like salt dissolves in water, melting like butter melts in a hot pan.

He resisted, desperately wondering how to use the weapon Brigid had given him in his grace. One defended with a sword, he thought, and tried to conjure and project the weapon. The darkness gathered in a huge mound, rising up on either side on him, about to fall and envelop him. Then it dissolved. The air cleared. He could breathe again. He looked up at Morrigan. She sneered.

"So the little goddess-whore has given you magic. Her magic is waterish and diluted. It will not take much to overcome it, whatever it is. She may talk in riddles, but I don't. I will carry you to my kingdom. Don't make me angry, Mr. Berends, or you will regret it when you begin your service to me as a slave."

He sensed her gathering power for another attack but then he felt a spark, a warmth, an idea forming in his mind. His thoughts rushed to something Morrigan had just said. Talk in riddles.

Oracles, prophets, soothsayers, seers - all of them cloaked their words in ambiguity. All of them offered multiple meanings. Croesus will cross the river and destroy a great kingdom, the Oracle at Delphi had told an ancient ruler. He had attacked only to discover the kingdom he would destroy was his own. Oracular pronouncements held meanings beyond the obvious. His mind worked quickly as Morrigan summoned her power. He knew he could not survive another wave of her malicious energy. He had to act.

What might Brigid, in her manifestation as the prophetess of wells and springs, mean? He had not understood how a simple description of his enemy - Morrigan is incapable of love could aid him in his struggle against her. Surely Brigid would not give him useless knowledge. She did not want him to be enslaved by Morrigan. He focused on her words. If it was not simply a description... then he understood. The statement that Morrigan was incapable of love could also mean the thing that made her incapable was love. She had used the word of in a manner that suggested it was an instrument - a weapon even.

He could fight her by loving her. The power of the sword derived from the magic of love.

Oracles might be enigmatic, but they did not lie.

All of this ran through his mind in seconds. He focused again on Morrigan. Looking up at her hovering above the paved path just beyond the bridge. Her eyes suddenly looked trouble.

"I'm sorry you feel that way about me," he said. "I'm sorry you want to enslave me."

Her face scowled contempt.

"Soon you'll be even sorrier."

"You are a very beautiful woman. I can just imagine what a glorious life you might have if you would see all you have to offer."

She looked alarmed but then rallied. Evil once more filled her eyes.

"Stupid mortal, do you think you can save yourself by flattering me?"

"Brigid told me you abstain - but not for the right reasons - not because you cherish the singleness of your spirit or, out of a selfless spirit, want to give your life to the service of others. She said you deny yourself pleasure, intimacy, and children because you cannot feel love. That is such a pity."

She screamed. "Cease speaking or I will seize you and drag you down to the realm of Hel, goddess of the dead. No more of your foolish words!"

"I'm only telling you the truth, Morrigan."

She fell. The fall surprised her more than it surprised Mathias. What he said had had enough of an effect on her that it had curtailed her magic so she could not hover in the air. He walked over to her.

She lay at his feet. When he approached her, she put out her hands to shield herself. Could she see sword that Brigid had embedded in him? She behaved as if he were brandishing it over her, as if she were shielding herself from the moment when he would bring its blade down on her. Fear, helplessness, and terror radiated from her dark eyes as she stared up at him.

Mathias paused a long moment and then spoke.

"I am not going to hurt you. I will hope - perhaps I'll even pray - for the day when you realize your beauty and the beauty of love and benevolence. I will release you if you will give me your hand so I can help you to your feet."

She gaped at him. Seeing her so abject and terrified - seeing such a beautiful woman reduced to such wretchedness - produced more compassion for her. Yet this made her even more afraid. She covered her head with her hands and twisted to one side, trying to protect herself from the deathblow she apparently believed would descend at any moment. She sobbed and shook. Looking down at her, Mathias began to see how far gone she was in self-absorbing evil. The more he tried to convince her of his goodwill, the more she feared him. The thought of this sent a new wave of compassion spreading through his heart. Morrigan began to cry, scream, and plead. "For the love of the holy, spare me," she pleaded. "For the love of my beautiful sister, Brigid, have mercy," she begged. "Please don't hurt me anymore!"

There would be no reaching her. He saw her tragedy

"Return to your kingdom. Swear you will not harm me again - or your sister, whose name you evoked just now."

"I swear," she managed to say. "I swear an oath upon myself, upon my godhood."

He hesitated but realized his concern was pointless. She could not respond to his love. As a goddess, she lived her nature. She had lived it for eons and could not escape its grip on her. He turned and left. When he got back to his car, Brigid was there, standing beside a bicycle.

She ran to him and threw her arms around him. After a long moment, they broke off their embrace.

"You have proven yourself a warrior and a champion," she said.

"It must be horrible to be Morrigan."

"She lives in a prison-house of her own design. You opened the door for her to leave and saw her crouch there, unable to depart, though Paradise awaited her beyond the door. I feel compassion for her as well. She will carry her spirit to eventual judgment."

He smiled. He saw a bicycle. Had she ridden a bicycle out here? She noticed he had glanced that way.

"I try to use magic and my power as a goddess as little as possible when I sojourn among mortals."

"You rode all this way?"

"It's really not that far."

"You rode in the cold?"

"The sun is shining." She held up her right hand. "I have gloves. And riding a bicycle generates a lot of heat. I'll ride back in the car with you, though."

"What about your bike? I don't have any way to carry it."

"Yes you do. I put the on the carrier I own in your back seat before you left to confront my sister. You didn't notice it there?"

"I had a lot on my mind."

They fastened the bicycle rack to the truck on his car. She was wearing one of those outfits cyclists wear: Tight-fitting Lycra shorts and a top, black with patches of yellow all through it. She had set her biking helmet on the hood of his vehicle. The body-hugging outfit made him shudder when he remembered this morning and the night before. She laughed at his effort to hide his interest in her body.

"In medieval days people called that 'concupiscence,'" she teased. "That's the inability to control your eyes - and the rest of your body."

"One of the Seven Deadly Sins?"

"No, but one of those was lust, and I get the idea you're feeling a lot of that right now."

"How could I not?"

She laughed. She had a delightful laugh. When she laughed like that, he could forget she was a goddess - or, more precisely, could forget she was a goddess in the ancient sense of the word.

2 comments:

  1. An unusual story with many interesting facts about Celtic mythology interwoven with a fair amount of imagination. I hope you have a Brigid rather than a Morgan in your life!
    Beryl.

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  2. A story rich with mythology and portent, I wonder what the future holds for Brigid and Matthias? Many thanks,
    Ceinwen

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