The Sagas of the Laigin:  The Ribbon Tree—Dressed for Battle,  Chapter the Third

“When one is gone from us, the family is not complete.”   A Siren Sister, a Singer to The Lost.

They stand with your heart in their hands

Well wishes upon their lips,

Your friends not fearful for their lives

As they die in your stead, your sanity is tipped.

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It was time to return and Labraid did with all possible haste.  He wished for the wind to blow his ship,  faster…a gale force wind that would push them back to the channel from whence he had set sail so very long ago.  He had lost count of the years.

Rory was his 10th First Mate.

So, it had been what, ten generations and the words of the warning  had been forgotten not to leave Eire?  Was that three hundred human  years, perhaps give or take a hundred?  His first mates lived a  long time…they reached the age of old men and were still spry.  Was that perhaps a thousand  human years, instead?

A thousand? That did not seem possible!  But, why not?  He had held precious his  thousand on Eire.  Had he been cursed a thousand to roam the seas?  It was a moot point.   He had never been one to keep track of the time and now he must return.

In his heart, he knew he would not be sailing back into the channel between the two islands.  Instead, he would be settling outside of Edinburgh.  Seth had said he would see to the  building of his castle.

Lucius Leviticus Lindsay, the Earl of  Lothian was to be his name.     Enough like his old name to tug at his heart.

There was the smell of land and he could hear the roar of the surf.  When they sailed up  the Eastern coast of Scotland, he docked the Lady Wife one last time.

Standing at the end of the gang plank was Seth.   That other man with him had to be Grid, shifted to human form.

Joy washed through him and then panic.   “You can not be here,” he shouted from the ship. “You can not.  Be gone from me,” his voice shook.

The crew, wanting to disembark,  looked uneasily at the two strangers that had such a violent effect on their captain.

“Labraid,” Seth approached him.  “Do not.  We have waited, also.  If we have not much time, then let us not spend it like this.

Come on, we have a private room at the The Red Ribbon.  Food is prepared and there is whisky. “

Labraid stood uneasily on deck.  He wanted with all of his heart to see and speak to his friends once more.  Feel their hand clasped him on the back.  Listen to their laugh.  Hear whatever news they had about whatever they wished to speak, about.

“Seth, Grid,” he sighed, as he started down the gangplank.  “I am so happy to see you, but what have you un-leashed upon yourselves?”

“We do not know,” Seth smiled.   “But you are here and this world is a better place for it.”

They walked down the dock and started towards a place that did not rock beneath his feet and promised creature comforts.

“For the past seventy years,” Seith bowed,  “I have been the Earl of Lindsay.  I have just passed.  My son was sent for. That would be you.   You wear the family ring,”  Seth smiled as he pulled it off his finger and put it on  Labraid.  “And the family sword.”  Unbuckling that, he strapped that onto Labraid as well.

“There is a horse that will take to you to castle in the morning.  But for now, let us sit and talk and be of good cheer and a happy heart.  I once more get to gaze upon my brother.”

“Grid,” Labraid smiled at him, “I am glad that you are here, but you should not be.  The curse still stands for I am an ancient human and have not aged one day.”

“It is not our intent to be caught up in the curse, my brother, but if so,” Grid  shrugged, “then so be it.  I would not undo my fate for what we need to tell you.”

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Sitting in the private room, they shared a meal and several bottles.

“It was Cian’s voice that called me here  with the thunder and lightning. Rory and myself were both standing on the beach.  We both heard it.  That is how I knew it was time to come here,” Labraid pushed back his chair.

Seth and Grid shared a long glance.

“We have heard,” Seth’s voice was set,  “the beginning of rumors and there is some fear at the castle. Something walks the night here in Edinburgh.   Drains the victim of blood and leaves the husk of the body.

Apparently during a full moon,  sometimes there is much violence done to the body and the neck can be ripped out, or the heart.  Sometimes not.”

“Were, also?” Labraid asked.

“We believe so,” Grid nodded.    “If a family settled, here, with the right coloring, they would inherit the curse.  So this could easily be both unleashed upon the populace and country side.”

Seth continued the conversation, concern in his voice.  “A vampire would need a large populace to pull from so the city would be ideal.  The Were would like to run the countryside.  We prepped for this.   We have set up stone hunting cottages for you all over Scotland and England.  Over the course of my life time as the Earl,  I have been to all of them.  They are all held in the Lindsay name.   The locals will just not know what it is you are hunting.”

Labraid was nodding at the wisdom of that.

“The castle is  a couple of hours outside the city by carriage.  Less time by a swift horse.  The castle also has a bay so that you could even travel by boat.   We have tried to consider everything that you will need to make this task less unwholesome than what it is already,” Gird said as he touched Labraid’s face.

“Thank you,” Labraid’s heart was heavy with what had to be done.

“We have everything written down, locations, how to access the treasure room, all of it, here,” Grid said pulling out the satchel,   “written in the Old Tongue.  In case something happens to us.   There is a key in the Lord of the Manner’s suite in the fae chest that sits on the table by the bed.   The key  opens the window seat that sits under the  most Eastern, window.  When you turn the lock, three times to the left and twice to the right, and then  say ‘The Two Blue Moons of the Realm’,  the trunk unlocks itself from the floor.   Shove it aside and lift the center stone.  Unlock  that in the floor  and there is another copy of the notes along with floor plans and all things you need to know that we have worked in and  magicked into the castle.”

“There is also,” Seth added as he poured another libation into each one’s mug, “the directions Cian gave on how to end the vampire and Were. “

Labraid felt the tears once more form in his eyes.  “I have done nothing but think about that.  Well just fuck…” he sighed.  “You two took a great risk….”

“No,” Grid smiled.  “We did not.  You were not living there at the time, we had not seen or talked to you.  We got things done for when you returned.”

“I can  not thank you, enough,” he smiled.  Then his face turned grim.  “Is there anything that needs to be done, tonight?  The full moon has passed, but this vampire, need we to be out and about?”

“Yes,” Seth replied as he emptied his tankard.  “The town is shuttered and the gates are closed for the night.   Let us walk the streets.  All good folk are in bed. The not so good are in their favorite drinking establishment or whore house.  The very bad are out there, lurking in the shadows, waiting for their next meal.

We brought the wooden stakes and silver chains.  We will silver them and take them to the castle.  If it becomes desperate, we’ll stake them.”

“Since I am their founding father,” Labraid was thoughtful, “do you think they would be drawn to my blood?

Like on the ribbon tree when Cian would put a bloodied ribbon, there?”

All three men eyed each other.

“That makes sense,” Grid replied.   “Like is drawn to like.”

“So, what?   A piece of bloodied cloth left somewhere?”    Seth asked.

“Why not a ribbon tree?” Labraid replied.   “Outside the city.  That way we would not make a scene.”

“Sounds good,” Seth agreed, taking his friend’s hand getting ready to magic his way out.  “We’ll just….”

“Go up and over the wall,” Labraid stayed his friend.  “You may not use magic around me.”

“Then a rope and a boost it is,” Seth smiled.

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When they arrived in the woods, Labraid ripped the hem of his shirt and bloodied it with his blood by drawing a knife across his arm.  Hanging it in the tree, they waited.

A waxing Gibbous moon smiled down on them.  He could deal with the vampire tonight, then the Were in a few more days.   He had time, Labarid assured, himself.

The night felt good, around him.  Trees, the sounds of animals.  The smell of the dirt, the life that was the forest floor.

Seth and Grid…his heart was full. Sorrow for what must be done would weigh on him later.  But for now,  it was if he had never been gone.  Theirs was the easy silence of old friends.  Comrades who had stood by each other and watched each other’s backs.  Their life was forfeit for the man who stood at their side.

The evening passed….

….and like a feather floating on the softest of the early pre-dawn breezes, they heard the woods whisper in alarm and then become silent.

“Sweet nectar of the gods!” he heard her voice.  It rippled like joy in his soul to hear one of his kinsman…her breath, from where he stood, stank of death…a vileness and corruption that reeked of hell!

Lifting a ribbon to her face, she sniffed it delicately and turned it in all directions as small moaning, wanting sounds came from her very pores.

“I know you are there,” her voice carried a trace of longing, “You in whom I had my beginning.  I do not know how this is possible, but I smell myself in this blood…and the blood of all my brothers and sisters.”

Labraid stepped out into the waning light.

“You are young,” she smiled.  “Your curls black like mine.  Your eyes orange like my brother’s.”

Plucking a blood soaked ribbon from the tree, she shoved it into her mouth and suckled the sweetness.   Spitting out the ribbon, she longed for more.  “’Tis better than the mother’s breast,” she smiled and offered him a courtesy as she took a tentative step closer and lifted her skirts to show her lower leg, then her knees, then her upper thighs.

“I know you carry wood…ash…I can smell it from here.  There is also a cold metal on your person.  It shines through your bag.  It hurts my eyes.   If you would like to taste my delights, ‘o honored one, toss the bag into the woods.

While we are wrestling with carnal delight, I shall wrestle the cursed ash away from you and after I have tasted all your delights, I shall grant you mercy and end your life with it.”

Labraid watched the creature that  his likeness and  blood had  brought upon the earth.  She was beautiful, her pale skin that glowed softly in the moonlight, the black curls that cascaded down her back to the ground.…her voice that of a lazy, summer afternoon, listening to the small quiet stream, wind through the woods.

Because she had inherited from him, she would have fae abilities.  Charm, was one.   There was no mistaking that.  She had the caller’s voice.  He wondered how fast she would be?  He knew he was going to find out.

“How old are you?” he asked.

“I am ancient,” she smiled at him, her fangs down, the whiteness accentuating the full red mouth.  “My knowledge of your body will give you endless pleasure.

Taking another step toward him, her hands went to her breasts and slowly unlaced the bodice to expose the gossamer gown that was beneath, her nipples exposed and hard, straining against the silky material.

“I will be sweet to you,” she took another step.  “You are my father and I am your child.  You gave me life,” her fingers plucked her nipples as she took another step.  “I shall not be able to tarry long with you,” she winked at him.  “I smell the sunrise, but the call of your blood is louder than my fear of the East.”

And then with the speed of lightning, she was there upon him.  He felt her teeth bite into his neck. She did not understand he could not die.  Not at her hand, not at another’s.  He would grant her this last feeling of euphoria.

With a sob, he reached into her chest and pulled out her heart.

When she crumpled to the ground, her vampire form diminished.  He felt the tears form in his eyes as he gazed at the young woman who had just passed out of childhood.

“Sun is getting ready to rise,” Seth held him as the sobbing shook him.  “We will  travel East until we intersect with the road.”

“I had thought perhaps we could have silvered her….” Labraid watched the body turn to ash.  “That there was something human still remaining….something that could be saved….”

“Was not to be with this one,” Grid regarded his friend.  “Perhaps the next one.   Come, let us be gone from this place.”

“Storm is moving in,” Seth looked up into the  still dark sky.  “The sun has crested  and the moon is getting ready to set and dark clouds are pushing in. Let us be on our way.  Perhaps we shall be at the castle before the worst of it bears down on us.”

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At that moment, the sun pushed through past the horizon and the blackest of clouds, coating all in an eerie light.  Wails of pain and despair screamed from Labraid.  Where before his two friends had stood, there now fluttered two crows.