Lightning arched from her sword as Aoiffe lashed out angrily at the surrounding Formorians. Their laughter boomed back with the thunder of their great bog-wood clubs as they beat her further up the hill. In retrospect it hadn't been a very bright idea to have baited the Formorians quite so close to their camp and quite so far from hers. With a three stroke feint her bronze sword clipped one on its leather helm and with some assisted leverage back-vaulted over it. However three of its brothers were there and to avoid their poised clubs she had to somersault further uphill.
She had thought it was a small party roasting a poached cow from the sidhe lands. The lay was high so she had galloped her horse through and leapt the fire in their midst, using an assist to grab the best haunch from the spit as she passed. Her mistake was to turn to watch the befuddled expression on their dumb faces and she made her exit. What she didn't see was one of their guards alerted to her trick. It cut short her dramatic exit by braining her horse with its great club.
And now, they had enough numbers to take her for ransom, but they preferred to bait her and drive her up this hill. It was an unmanaged strong magic point, that was clear. She could feel the lay rage like a fire through the ground. It made the assists easier but seemingly to no avail. She suspected that one of them out there was using the wild magic to direct the others. She was not in a winning position.
"I am Aoiffe of the Fox Family, Connor's sept." She shouted at them. "I am worth eight milk-cows ransom!" They had her just below the summit and now she could see it was a sea-cliff. The three nearest her pursed their lips as if they were considering her offer. The waves crashed below and they shrugged their shoulders and shook their heads "no".
She gathered all her energy and let the untamed lay flow through her into one great assisted leap. But even as she did it she felt that their magic worker had anticipated this and was much better prepared. It deflected her leap and sent her out over the cliff. At the same instant he stoked up the wild energy into a great coruscating storm. She fell through it, through the colours, through the planes of reality itself. Now she understood, ransom or death wasn't good enough. They sacrificed her to the magic.
She fell through the horror with different realities reaching out to grab her and pluck pieces from her. The energy was too unformed to use easily. She knew she could not survive long and keep her sanity. All her energy had been spent in that last leap so all she could do was grab onto a likely substrate and use its power to drag herself into it.
And then she was through, falling, the ground came up quickly and she tumbled with it, deflecting the energy rolling downhill. A bush intervened but with one assisted stoke her sword broke it and her passage. She regained her feet for a few strides trying to shed velocity before she had to flip over a stone wall and tumble again. The hill was leveling out and there was just one more hedge to cut through before she could halt herself. However, this time, something didn't give in this hedge to her sword, enhanced as it was and she slammed into it. Bands stronger than anything she had felt before tangled her. Not only that, they bit into her with teeth! She cried in pain as she hung tangled within hedge by the impossibly strong toothed bands.
Iain woke with a start to a woman's gasp and cry. He blinked at the empty half of the dome tent next to him where Fiona should have been and sighed. "Must have dreamt it." He had been hoping to hear her make that sort of noise from within his tent for most of the long weekend, but she had dumped him. He peered at his watch and scratched his head. But another quiet whimper came. He stopped and listened, maybe he could at least hear someone else at it. It quickly became apparent that it was actually someone in trouble rather than anything more exciting.
He pulled on his jeans and unzipped the tent. The hedge he had sheltered next to shook and he could see someone badly tangled in it. "Jesus woman! Are you all right there?" He rushed over as she thrashed some more and growled something he couldn't understand. "Now just hold steady. You're just making it worse." He broke some of the larger gorse branches out of the way and began untangling her from the barbed wire. She finally seemed to understand and sullenly cooperated.
Slowly she emerged from the tangle. She had made quite a job of herself. Her clothes and skin were scratched and torn, such as they were. Bits of gorse were stuck through her long, black hair which had come unclipped. Iain supported her as she drew her leg from the final barbs of the wire and set her on the ground. "How are you now?" he asked. He became aware looking into her green eyes that she was really quite beautiful, if disheveled. And her clothes, which he hadn't seen clearly before, were not just fashionably ripped but actually quite odd. Also, now torn, they were rather revealing of the milk white body beneath.
Maybe I can salvage something from this weekend he thought to himself. "You should really get those cuts seen to", he said. "I've got a first aid kit." She looked at him oddly, but he rushed into the tent and emerged with the kit. He showed her the red cross and she nodded distractedly. He set about swabbing her cuts, trying to look calm and professional, trying not to look like he was trying to look under her clothes.
Aoiffe's head swam. The tumble and toothed bands had caught up with her. Fortunately she had nearly landed on this barbarous noble. He had unbound the magic tangle and had a box sacred to Angus with which he applied a poultice to her wounds.
The land around he was vaguely familiar. It seemed, on the larger scale, to be much the same as where the Formorians had driven her but, on the small scale many of the details had changed. Fences and hedge rows ran everywhere. Much more settled than the wilds she had left.
She had only really studied the applied half of her Pure and Applied Magic course. Wild magic, and its effects, were quite outside her realm of knowledge. Her cousin had done Theoretical Magic and it was quite a different discipline. She would need local help to get back.
The noble plucked at her clothes in a very fastidious way. Not surprisingly. The braes he wore were so finely woven she could barely see the weave! He must take her for some peasant woman. Her head was clearer now. It was time for formal introductions. She fumbled through her neck ornaments till she found her translator her mother made her carry. Her family was allied with the lesser fairies. Their language was so regionalised as to make learning all the dialects impossible. She turned it on, drew her sword and addressed him. "I am Aoiffe of the Fox Family, O'Connor's sept" she said formally. "I owe you a debt of service for your aid, noble sir. Will you accept three days service and consider our families acquitted?"
Fortunately the kit had alcohol swabs and he used them all. While adjusting her clothes he noticed they were much odder than he had first thought. They all seemed to be home made. Not just home sewed, but also woven by hand. Weird. But weird can be good. When he finished they both stood as he put the kit away.
Then she drew a sword from what he had thought was an umbrella. This is too weird, he thought taking a step or two back. "I am Aoiffe Rudh O'Connor'" she said formally. "I owe you one for your help. How about I help your for three days and consider it quits?" She looked at him expectantly.
"Hi", he said rather weakly. "I'm Iain Grey." He thought about holding out his hand, but it didn't seem an appropriate response to her sword. "The tent's big enough for two. If you want to hang out for the long weekend, that'd be cool." He smiled in what he hoped was an alluring way. She nodded curtly and sheathed her sword in a single fluid motion. He raised his eyebrows. "Are you in the SCA or The Clan or something?"
She looked quizzically at him. "Sorry? My translator is idiomatic. I don't always catch literals."
Ah, he thought. A foreigner. "Never mind. You are not from around here, then?" She looked around intently.
"I don't think so. Not exactly anyway. I am and I am not."
Celtic twilight bullshit. "You mean you are not from here physically but you have always felt this is your spiritual home?"
"Yes!" she nodded enthusiastically. The way her eyes lit up were very dramatic. She really was beautiful. Quite, quite beautiful. I can definitely salvage something from this weekend. Most of these new-age romantic types are quite liberated, thought Iain hopefully. Free sex and all that. Maybe she's Swedish. He became acutely aware that he was just wearing jeans.
"Uh, I'm just going to go change. I'll be right back. OK?" She smiled and nodded.
The noble Iain disappeared into his magic hill tent. Amazing how advanced these people were. She would have to report back to her cousins in research. Maybe he could work the craft and might help her back. Best not to bring it up immediately, she thought, I'm indebted enough to him anyway. At least I can see the lie of the land while under local protection.
She found an appropriate rock nearby and began to straighten and sharpen her blade. It wasn't her finest and the Fomorian's had nicked it quite badly. She did the best job she could and sheathed it. The mysterious tent shook and rattled as Sir Iain saw to his toilet. She took the opportunity to examine the hedge into which she had fallen.
Gorse she knew. They seeded it widely over the slopes to deter intruders. Of course if you knew the spell to soften it into heather it wasn't much of a barrier. However they had their own special way of raising it to submit only to their own spells.
The toothed bands seem to be made of a magic metal. She held and tried to bend it where there were no teeth. How strong and resilient! The teeth made it quite clear that it could hold an edge. What a sword it would make. If she could only bring some back with her. However, she had to first work off one debt first before she sought more. Doubtless it was quite expensive.
Sir Iain had emerged and, if anything, was even more resplendent. In addition to the finely woven braes, he wore sandals that looked of ivory and fine cloth, yet were flexible as leather. Rich folds of widely knit material swathed his body in a blue brighter than the sea. When he first appeared he was as hairy as a Formorian but now he had singed his beard till his face was as smooth as a Sidhe.
She involuntarily clutched her shabby garments around her self-consciously and bowed formally again. What a peasant he must think me! He held up another article cut like his loose wrap but made of the same fine material of his braes. "It seems the chill of the morning has got the better of you. If it is good enough for you, please take this cloak. My own will keep me warm enough."
She was amazed at his generosity. Not only was the material fine but the stitching on it was better then the small fairies could do. Large brass ornaments decorated the outside with odd patterns on them. "My sincere gratitude and the thanks of my family!" She removed the remains of her wrap and tied them about her waist. She looked at him to try to work out how you donned the garment without appearing a fool and noticed he was staring openmouthed at her chest.
The woad from the last muster hadn't quite worn off. She traced the fading lines around her breast and ribs, "It is a lesser Cahil in the fashion of Maeve. I only wear the full Cahil for clan warfare. This was just from the last sept muster. I prefer it to the Eithne style. It is more comfortable and supportive and the ingredients aren't as difficult to find. It isn't as protective but doesn't interfere with the magic."
While explaining the spell she had worked out, more or less, how the garment went on. She drew it over herself. However it fell open at the front. Apparently the brass ornaments were mysterious cloak pins. Iain swallowed heavily, "Please, let me help." He showed her how the toggles worked with his hands shaking slightly.
He must not be used to warriors she thought. He certainly didn't have the look of a warrior himself. She smiled as she finished the remaining toggles herself. He muttered something about packing the tent and went about his business.
Iain sat heavily in the tent. Talk about uninhibited, he thought. And I thought the eyes were beautiful! Never mind the weird tattoos, they were hardly unexpected. Obviously some cooky neo-pagan thing. The breasts were the most amazing he had ever seen. He had seen a few enough in the flesh but many more in print, most of which were doctored. But this pair had them all beat. I wonder what the rest of her is like.
He quickly threw his stuff into his backpack, checking the condoms twice. He dragged it out of the tent and began collapsing the dome. She watched him like she he was performing some obscure ritual. Maybe she was pretending he was. In any event it didn't take long to pack it up and into the pack. "That's the great thing about domes", he said to her conversationally, "they pack small and quickly."
"Indeed", she said with that look of non-comprehension.
"I thought we'd head up the coast a bit. How does that suit you?"
"Whatever you like. And remember my sword is in your service, if anyone tries to mug you I'll get them."
"Yeah, sure, whatever." Damn good looking, but damn odd. He shouldered the pack and they set off along the cliff walk. He wasn't that fit and took his time. She, on the other hand, bounded ahead and back. Even though she wore what seemed the crappiest shoes for climbing she leapt from point to point like a mountain goat.
They stopped at a stream which she bent and drank from. He used a plastic cup. "What business brings you here?" she asked.
"I was supposed to be camping with a friend. A girl friend. She dumped me." He shrugged.
"Were you engaged?"
"No. We'd only gone out twice."
"Ah. No feud than. That's good."
He was getting used to not understanding where she was coming from. "I'd known her for a while. We're both in the chess club at college."
"You play chess?"
"Well, I joined mainly to learn and there were a number of cute girls on the stand." A typical trick to grab freshers, he'd learned. Most of them weren't even in the club. He watched the clouds for a minute. "When I said we'd gone out twice, really the first time was a society event. She was on the committee and we all went drinking afterwards. We both got kind of drunk and spent some time waiting for the bus." Yeah, very romantic. She couldn't even remember his name.
"I asked her to a film the next week but she brought six of her friends." Aoiffe smiled and nodded. "I guess I just didn't get the hint. I asked her out camping but she rang the night before the cancel. I'd already got the tickets so I thought I might as well go anyway."
He smiled up at her, but could tell she either didn't understand or didn't care. "I've never had much luck with women" he muttered.
"Those politics are best left up your parents", she said. "Shall we move on?"
"Sir Iain, may I ask the lineage of your name?" Aoiffe asked as they walked. The name had been bothering her for some time. It felt right but she was quite certain she had never heard it before. Maybe it was a clue to her whereabouts.
"It is the Irish for John, one of the four prophets."
Hmmm, a religious name. Maybe the gods were changed on this reality. "I'm wondering how far we are from my own plane. The geography is quite similar but less wild. There are many fences and the forests are gone."
"Well, you know farmers. They'll cut and plow anything they can."
"The energies are quite different. I can't find any lay lines. It all seems dispersed." She ran her hands over some nearby rocks. "Dead as Bolor. Where do you get your energy from?"
"I passed some power cables a few miles back before we met."
Maybe the wondrous metal that was used for the teeth was also is a good conductor of magic. What an interesting concept: to route magic outside of lay lines using a conductor. They used spells and standing stones to divert it, like a stream. But it wasn't as accurate or convenient. Her cousin would be fascinated.
"The bastards drove me into a spot of high magic we hadn't dammed. The energy was too wild to use and, to make matters worse, they threw in a Tempest to stir it up. Have you ever seen the like?"
"No. Never." Ian said. He seemed to be humoring her. I guess if they can pipe the lay like a beaver dam this must seem quite trite.
"So I could be anywhere from Arcadia to Swartzelfheim." Odds were, though that she was much nearer to home than that.
"Galway isn't that far" he said.
She resumed scouting. There really didn't seem to be many around. The tracks were all old and more like Sir Iain's boots. Not even many beasts. She spotted a fox once and gave it the clan sign, but it didn't recognize her. Nearby she found some burrows and sang out a couple of things that looked like hares but were more diminutive.
She presented them to Iain. "They aren't hares as I'm used to but they seem similar. Shall we have them for lunch?"
"I have brought enough of suitable quantity. Besides, they might be diseased." She let them go and they moved inland along another stream till they found a soft spot for lunch. Iain presented her with a marvelous selection of things. The bread was as white as cloud, she hardly recognized it. From another pouch he fed her the most oddly tasting crackling, sliced thinner than imaginable. And then a dark substance far sweeter than honey. Surely Danu ate of such stuff!
Iain brought out a cloth afterwards that was very thin and brittle. And the patterns on it were of the clearest colours. He examined it for sometime and, curious, she watched closely as well. When he noticed he spread it flat on the ground. "Where're here", he said, pointing to one part. "We've come up along here. I'm trying to think where we might go next."
She looked again and finally understood. The cloth was dyed in the manner of the land as viewed as a bird. She had attained swan form and understood the idea. This, though, must have been drawn by a master who could attain the hawk form. "Did you draw this yourself?"
He gave her that look that he used when she asked something stupid. "No. I bought it." He pointed at another bit, "It says there is a stone circle or ring fort up this stream here. It will take us most of the rest of the day to get to, though. Shall we go look?"
"If you wish, sir. Maybe it will still be channeling."
Iain wasn't quite sure how a stone circle could be "on-line" but she seemed happy enough with his choice. He guessed it has something to do with her "translator", but he couldn't see what she could conceivably be using. If he was lucky, she might want to do some new age fertility ritual in the ancient site. He'd heard stories of romantically struck yanks getting carried away with idealized nostalgia when in Ireland. He wasn't sure of how many of them to believe.
He hoped it was a good circle. Most were just a couple of weed grown rocks. The problem with having 5000 years of history was that there were too many ancient sites to keep up. They left the stream and, after another quick consultation with his map, they made for a hill. When they crested it the sight was better than he had hoped. Grey lichen covered rocks rose in a rough oval. Each leaned slightly toward another like old ladies tired with baggage. The area had been cleared and a Public Works plaque stood nearby in the ground. The only thing marring it was some farmer's cow grazing in the short grass in the center. "Wow" he said.
"Holy cow!" Aoiffe said in amazement. He dropped his pack and both approached the circle with a mixture of reverence and awe. He went up to the first standing stone and pressed his hands against it. To think that his ancient, primitive fore bearers had dragged these stones vast distances with no more than bronze tools. He ran his hand over the weathered surface. Just visible were painstakingly chipped spirals and designs. He turned to show Aoiffe but she stood still in amazement staring at the cow. The cow?
"Hey, Aoiffe, there are some designs on this one." She waved him away and circled the cow.
"What manner of beast is this?"
"It's a cow. Probably some farmer's."
"I can see it is a cow. But what an animal! It is so big, its coat is so smooth and its horns are so small. Surely this is the prize cow of some king! But where are the cowherds guarding it?"
This was getting irritating. "It's just some mangy dairy cow. Shoo bessy, shoo. Go home." He clapped his hands and gestured at the cow. After one or two indolent chews the cow began to amble off. "Really, Aoiffe, this is about the best stone circle I've seen. It is far more interesting than the cow."
She looked around in confusion. "It is just a twin-loop bypass. Nothing special. It says "Office of Public Works" right on the stone there. There's probably hardly any power in it." She waved her hands in complex gestures and groaned some words that weren't translated. There was a sharp burning smell as the lichen on the stones crisped and peeled off. The stones glowed slightly and the sun seemed to grow faint. Then the glow flickered and died. "Can't even hold a charge anymore. Now that cow, that was a true work. How could you drive it away like that?"
Iain's jaw was completely disconnected from the rest of his head. He stood staring at this strange woman trying to forget what he just saw. "How? How did you do that?"
She, in turn, looked at him. It was as if he had never seen a simple incantation before. But, thinking on it, he hadn't done any since she met him. She turned to look back at the cow. But it had joined a heard of similar beasts. Not even her legends described such a wondrous beast and here was a whole heard. She look back at Iain, "I think we really don't understand each other as well as we have been thinking."
The two sat across from one another in the stone circle. "This is my translator", she said, holding out the stone. "Normally I use it to talk with pixies and sprites."
"Is it magic?" asked Iain.
"Of course, what would you expect?"
"Well, I've seen battery operated ones." She looked blank. "Electricity. Like this torch." He dug out his flashlight. Aoiffe jumped slightly when he turned it on and off.
"How does it work? I didn't feel any lay."
"Electricity, like I said. Nothing magic." He then stopped and thought about what he said. "So you use magic, or lay, to power your devices."
"Yes, more or less. And you use electricity?"
"Yes, more or less. Maybe this isn't so mysterious."
"Just different." They smiled at each other. "Show me more."
He showed her the matches, compass, notebook and pens. She covered him in fairly light, banished the dew, and sang down the birds from the tree.
"Can you teach me?" he asked. Maybe he could make girls notice him more if he knew a few real magic tricks.
She closed her eyes and gestured up and down his body, then looked at him sadly. "I'm afraid you have to be born with it." She shook her head. "Your blood, it is from here but it isn't. I know parts of it but others are from many different places. North, East, South. What is your lineage?"
"I'm as Irish as anyone else!" he said defiantly. He couldn't believe you had to be born to use magic. "My family has been in these lands for generations."
"But your family's name doesn't belong here. I can feel it."
"It's a Norman name. They invaded in 1169." His heart sank. "From the East. A lot of Spanish washed up a couple hundred years later. From the South. And, I guess the Vikings, a few hundred years earlier, invaded from the North. Yeah. I guess I'm as Irish as anyone." He sighed.
"But who are these? I've never heard of them? We've but newly come here and are taking the land from the Formorians. In which part do these others live?" She asked urgently.
"Formorians? Like, big one-eyed giants?" She nodded. "That's legendary. Don't be silly."
"Legendary, what do you mean legendary? My clan has fought hard in all three campaigns against them. We were on the forefront the last time we broke the peace treaty with them. With Danu's blessing we'll have them driven into the sea within three years."
"Danu? Do you really think you are one of the Tuatha de Danna?" That last she understood without the translator.
"Yes, I am a child of Danu! I can trace my line back to the goddess herself. How else could I be noble? But how can you know of such and I not know of you?"
He looked at her again. None of this could be real, but at least some was beginning to fall into place. "Because you are in our legends. You must have come forward in time."
"What do you mean? I'm surely in another world, perhaps close to ours, but what do you mean by 'forward in time'?"
"Like, say you went to sleep for a thousand years, and then woke up."
She nodded, "I've heard it's happened."
"Well, there you are. But we don't even know how long ago the Children of Danu were. I think the archeologists call them the Beaker People. At least three thousand years."
She searched his eyes, but couldn't find any lies or deceptions there. "But", she said slowly, fearing the answer. "Where are they now?"
Iain looked at her carefully before answering. If this could somehow be true, what could he say. But with her wild, black hair, white skin, red lips, and green eyes he could believe she had walked out of legend. "They're gone. Like the Formorians. You drove them into the sea. But the Milesians came next and drove you out as well. Then the Celts, then the Vikings, the Normans, the Tudors, and, well I guess that is why my blood is so muddled."
She rose suddenly and turned from him. She took a few steps and put her hand on one standing stone. "Gone? All of them?" Iain felt awful. He should have found a better way to say it. He was no good at such things. Now, she needed the right thing said to her. Even if she was delusional, it couldn't hurt. He got up awkwardly and put his hand on her shoulder.
"If you want, you can, well, stay with me", he said questioningly. But her eyes were far away. She sung a quiet sad song and Iain took his hand away. He didn't know the words but the melody alone brought tears to his eyes Despite all the dancing lights and Snow White animal tricks that song convinced him utterly that she was who she said she was.
He wandered back and rummaged disinterestedly in the pack, trying to think. The sun was setting and they might as well camp here as anywhere. He was hammering in the last tent-peg when a trickle of thought occurred to him. "Aoiffe!" he said. She looked up from where she had been sitting on a standing stone. "They were driven into the hills. That's what the legends say. Into the hills. As in inside of them."
The looked thoughtful. "Yes, I supposed it could be so. I've heard they were working on bunkers. But what of it? It sounds lonely place to die."
"No, they didn't die, they just hid. They came out and annoyed the Celts for years." He went over and grabbed her hands, "The legends say that time passes differently in a fairy mound. They could still be there."
She disentangled her hands and scratched her head and through back to her magic classes. "Density and lay, time and mana. I suppose it is theoretically possible." She looked up and smiled. "I suppose it is theoretically possible."
"Damn right it is. There have been fairy legends for years. We still get yanks coming over hunting them."
"Hunting them!" she said in alarm.
"No, not in that sense. Just nosing around." He gestured to the circle, "But with you, you should be able to sense them. We can find them!" He dragged her into the tent and go out the flashlight and map. "See, this type of writing here, that means 'Ancient Site'. There are loads of them around here. Do any of these names mean anything to you?"
"I don't understand. Does the paper speak to you?"
He slapped his forehead. "Of course, you can't read. Wasn't invented then. Look, pretend you are a crow or something flying high."
"A swan, I've done that."
He laughed. "Are there any bits that are more powerful than the rest? Somewhere you might build a bunker?"
She looked intently. He leaned close to her and read out the names. She turned once and her cheek brushed against his. Oh, my, he thought. Her touch had brought to realization that he was in a tent, alone, in the middle of nowhere with, perhaps, the most beautiful girl he had ever laid eyes on. No, he said. I mustn't 'put on airs'. She doesn't care about me, she just wants to get home. "Aoiffe", he said. "If we find them, will you take me with you?"
She looked at him oddly, "You will always be welcome at my clan's hearth." He smiled oddly and went back to the map. Eventually she found a likely spot.
"Croagh Patrick?", asked Iain. "But that is a Catholic Pilgrimage site. Not some ancient Druid circle."
"Yes, it is a holy spot. I'm not surprised your people worship there."
"But, it is a different religion."
"Holy is holy" she said matter of factly. "Can we get there?"
"Yes, we should be able to hike there if we walk all tomorrow."
I was a long, long walk the next day, fraught with moments for each of them. They undertook part of the journey by bus. Iain was amazed to see someone so strong so terrified. But she got her own back later when she enchanted his boots to walk on water and save them a long loop around a river. It was dark by the time they finally stopped and fell into an exhausted sleep.
But, when the sun arose the next day they were right at the feet of Croagh Patrick itself. "It's pretty impressive" admitted Iain.
Aoiffe waved her hands about, scanning. "There are many things under the ground around here. The earth speaks of them."
"Yeah, they keep arguing over the mining rights to the land." She looked at him disbelievingly. "I know, nothing is sacred to some." She laughed.
He wanted to shadow the pilgrim trail, since he felt what they were doing was vaguely sacrilegious. She had no such problems, "The power flows strongest there." and set off up it. About halfway up she stopped and concentrated. "I think you were right. I feel something of my people. Over this way." They took a sheep trail down and to one side, eventually ending up in a dell with a sheer rock face.
"Speak friend, and you shall enter" said Iain whimsically. "Never mind", he said in reply to her look. "How do we get in."
"I'm not sure." She hummed a few notes and waved a thistle over the surface. What had initially appeared as just cracks and traceries in the rock now glowed and shifted slightly into spiral patterns and what seemed quite definitely to be a portal. She dropped the thistle and stood facing it directly. A slight breeze stirred as she began a low moaning. Beneath the denim jacket and her trousers her muscles bunched in effort. Her toes dug into the earth and fey fire outlined her body in a shimmering green glow. Looking closely Iain could see that her face wasn't quite proportioned along normal lines and her ears were slightly elongated. Odd that he never quite noticed that before.
She brought her clenched fists up, like a weight lifter, and then released them at the door. The lines of the door glowed briefly and there was the briefest of grating noises before the wind died and silence returned. Aoiffe sank to her knees. "I don't know the right spell and there isn't enough power here to brute-force it."
Iain came up and held her from behind. "We'll find a way." She pushed him gently aside and sat on the wet grass. "Wouldn't it have been built on a lay line?"
"Lay lines move", she said. "That's why we build the circles, to divert them in more useful directions."
"Is it nearby?" Iain asked.
She did a tired scan. "No. The pilgrim trail is the closest Source." She shook her head. "There is no way we can divert that. Besides I don't need a whole lay line to open a silly door. I just need a bit more than I have. Do you have any sacred amulets that I can borrow?"
He thought for a moment. "Uh, not really. We don't go in so much for them, nowadays."
She looked at him quizzically. "But the driver of the iron beast had one around his reflective pool."
"Oh, that. That was a St. Christopher's medal. The hang them on rear-view mirrors for luck. I suppose you could call that a magical amulet. Would something like that work?"
"Yes. Holy is holy. Magic is magic", she said simply. "If our gods can forgive yours using our holy sites then surely yours can forgive me using their totems of power?"
"Sounds fair to me." He thought for a few moments. "Rest here for a bit. Eat some more of the chocolate. I'll go find something."
An hour or so later he returned brandishing a string of rosary beads. "Will this do?"
She hummed again and they lit with a red glow. "I've never seen that colour before but they should serve. What is the incantation?"
Iain laughed and laughed and taught her the Hail Mary. "I'm sorry, it just seems so impious. I don't think the nun I borrowed them from would approve."
She shook her head earnestly, "No, I mean no impiety. You should give more respect to your gods!" He shrugged and smiled in mock submission. Then he wet a corner of his shirt and dabbed at her mouth.
"You're covered in chocolate. What a mess." She smiled shamelessly. "Mmmmm."
He packed the backpack up as she practiced her Hail Marys. "I hope I brought enough. You seem to go through a fair amount of chocolate." He finished and looked at her for a long time. "What will it be like?"
She looked back at him, then turned. "I don't know. I can only guess." She closed her eyes. "Big dark feast halls with glowing tapestries. The glitter of the court of the Sidhe. Black wine and golden roasts." She opened her eyes again. "Maybe."
"But time, it does pass differently there, yes?"
"I don't know for sure, but what I can remember about theory would probably indicate such. It depends on how deep into the substrate they've gone." She looked at him quizzically.
"It is just, you see, there are some legends about a man being taken into a fairy mound for a day and finding that 100 years had passed. I just want to be sure that that is what is going to happen."
"Gosh, I hadn't thought of that. Yes it could be quite possible. But, what do you mean? You sound as if you want that to happen?"
He looked into the distance and shrugged. "Yeah, I do."
"Why? Your friends and family, all you know will be changed. How could you want that?"
He shrugged again. "Nothing special. There's nothing special here for me. Especially me. I've never been something special." He turned back to her. "Beautiful women like you just don't talk to people like me." She raised her eyebrows. "If I go away for a hundred years or a thousand years and then come back, then I'll be special."
Aoiffe shook her head sadly. "No, Iain. You will just be more different and more alone. Look at me! I am lucky to have found my people. I couldn't be happy in your world. You couldn't stay in mine and if you go, there will be no way for you to return."
"No! I want to go. This is the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me. How can I let it end? I don't care about anything else!"
"No, Iain. I can't let you. Despite my oath of service, I can't let you come." She took him by his shoulders and looked into his eyes. "Your destiny is within you, not within the hill. You said it yourself, my people are gone from the world and don't affect it anymore. You are of it. You can change things for yourself. I can see it within you." Gently she kissed the single tear that had pooled in each of his eyes and let him go. "Besides, the kiss of the Sidhe brings second sight to mortals. I think that makes you a little special." He smiled weekly, sniffled and stepped back. "I'll present the chocolate to whoever is High King on your behalf. Take your pack and go back. I don't want you trapped in any backlash if I screw up."
He hugged her suddenly and tightly. "Good-bye", he whispered. Then, shouldering his pack he slowly set off downhill. She sighed as she watched him go. When he was a safe distance and moving further she hefted the rosary. "Hail Mary, full of Grace..."
This time the green glow mixed with the red. Fey fire sprung up through the glade and covered both her and the door. Spirals, lozenges, and the cracks of the rock face were all highlighted until a glowing archway formed. Slowly, with a groan of age the door rasped open. Eventually it reached its full width and blackness deepened beyond it. However the groaning hadn't stopped. Rather it had turned to a lowing. Surprised Aoiffe turned and looked behind her.
"Shoo, bessy! Get on little doggie!" shouted Iain coming up the hill driving
a cow before him. He stopped short of the glade but gave the cow one last swat
which sent it running through into the mountain bowling Aoiffe on before it.
"And give the cow with my regards to the High Queen!"