Faerie Tale Queen - Chapters 1 - 5 (Unedited)
In a mystical realm, just beyond the sight of the mortal eye, Queen Bevin stood on the balcony of her morning room, the highest point in her castle. From here she could survey each of the four shires which made up her kingdom of Grá.
Urraim stood to the North, with its majestic snowcapped mountains and waterfalls, lush green forests filled with game, resourceful hunters, and fierce warriors. Síocháin, in the South, brimmed with fertile fields, healthy livestock, and skilled laborers. In the East was Rathúnas, a land with sweeping cliffs and crashing waters, and the home to the kingdom’s scholars, poets and musicians.
Finally, Comhcheol lay in the West. Although the queen would never admit it aloud, this was her favorite of all the shires. Comhcheol had captured the best of each of the other shires and melded them all into one. It had lakes teaming with fish, rolling picturesque hills, rich soil to grow herbs, and the wise ones who catered to Grá’s health and wellbeing, both physically and spiritually.
Each of the shires contributed to the whole of Grá, maintained its balance. However, if something were to happen to Urriam, Síocháin or Rathúnas, the other shires would be able to compensate. But, if something were to befall Comhcheol, the queen knew all of Grá would crumble.
This was why, as Queen Bevin stared to the west, she was filled with a sense of dread and foreboding. The Bagairt, in the form of a menacing dark cloud, hovered on the horizon, just beyond the protective barrier of Grá. A barrier the queen feared she was no longer strong enough to maintain. This was the reason she had summoned her only son, Pádraig, to her side this day.
A gentle breeze ruffled the sleeve of her emerald gown, and she shivered, even though she was not cold. She rubbed her arms, then turned from her vigil when she heard her son approach. The sight of him made her smile, her fear momentarily forgotten. Pádraig had grown into a fine young man. He was tall and strong, handsome but not vain, honest and caring. Yes, she was incredibly proud of the man he had become.
He kissed her cheek, “You needed me Mother?”
“Yes Pádraig, my sweet boy, my son. I do.” She laced her arm through his, and led him to the couch. After they had settled themselves, she elaborated. “The time is drawing near when I will need to pass on this kingdom. It is requiring more and more of my energy each day to keep the Bagairt at bay.”
“Then we shall fight them mother. The Urriam are strong. With them, we can defend Grá.”
She squeezed his hand, “I admire your courage Pádraig, but I know the Bagairt cannot be defeated by an army, ours or anyone else’s. The Prophesy states…”
“I do not care what the Prophesy states!” Pádraig rose and began to pace as he railed. “We are the masters of our destinies. We will determine what shall come to pass, not some ancient book.”
“What is written is what will be, my son. Even our own seers have confirmed this. If we are to survive the Bagairt, it will not be I who defeats them, but a descendant of yours. The time has come my love, for you to find a wife and have a daughter. When she comes of age, it must be her decision to come to me, to be trained and to take her rightful position as ruler of Grá.”
“But Mother, I have searched all four corners of our land, and although we have many wonderful and beautiful women, there is no one here I wish to claim as my own. No one my soul cries out for.”
“You silly boy, you rage against the Prophesy, yet you still believe in a destined mate.” Queen Bevin laughed and shook her head. “Although I had hoped it would not come to pass, I knew there was a possibility you would not find your mate within our kingdom. You son, must leave here and walk amongst the mortals. It is there you will find true love, your destiny, the fulfillment of the Prophesy.”
Kieren slid down the wall, crossed her arms over her upturned knees and buried her face. Her chest tightened and gut wrenched as she fought back the tears, the feeling of impotence. The only person in the world who loved her, Patrick Christopher Byrne, “Paddy” to all who knew him, lay dying in the room behind her, and there was not a damned thing she could do about it.
How could this be happening? Only a week before, her Grandfather was so full of life and then, as if someone snapped his fingers, she literally watched him fade to the frail being lying in the bed in the next room. There had been no accident, no illness, and blessedly, no pain. The sands of time had simply run out, and he was being given a short reprieve to say goodbye.
Doc Herbert, the last of the steady stream of friends who had been coming in and out of her Grandfather’s room for the past three days, was in with him now but not as a physician as a friend, for Doc has been retired longer than Kieren had been on this earth. The man was ninety if he was a day, and frequently boasted he one of Paddy’s oldest friend. Although Kieren knew Doc was of sound mind, she often wondered of the stories she’d overheard of when he was a boy. The way he spoke, Doc was but a child when the two had met, yet Paddy had been a man full grown.
Kieren dismissed her wayward thoughts when the door opened and Doc popped his head around the corner, “He’s asking for you dear.” She rose, and as she entered the room, Doc hugged her and whispered in her ear, “It won’t be long now child. I’ll be waiting downstairs if you need me.”
Kieren attempted a smile, but failed miserably. She closed the door behind Doc, and slowly made her way to Paddy’s bed. Perhaps if I take my time he’ll stay with me longer.
As if sensing her presence, Paddy’s eyes opened, “There you are Kieren, my sweet girl, my granddaughter. Come, sit with me a moment. I need to tell you a story.” Kieren had heard those same words many times in her life, except this time she knew it would be the last, and tears sprung to her eyes as she sat by his side and took his hand. “Ach, none of that my love. I have lived long, and I have lived well. The only regret I have is, I did not get to see my mother one last time before I died, but I will see her one day soon.”
Kieren did not know how to reply to his comment, so she just nodded and smiled as she sniffed back her tears. “You said you had a story to tell me Paddy. Does the new queen conquer the Bagairt?”
“No my precious girl, you and only you can finish the story. I have told you all the tales, you need to determine how the story ends.”
His voice began to fade and his eyes close.
He opened his eyes again and whispered, “I love you my sweet girl. Promise me you will never forget the stories I have told you.”
“I love you too Paddy, and I could never forget your stories.”
Upon her affirmation, Paddy closed his eyes for the last time.
Kieren was dwarfed by the oversized leather chair where she numbly sat in the attorney’s opulent office. The past two weeks had been spent in a fog, the wake and funeral a mere blur. The only thing real to Kieren now, was her heartache and incredible sense of loss. Paddy had been her whole world, her guardian, her inspiration, her strength. Now that he was gone, she was left floundering, no longer sure of herself or her place in the world.
“Thank you for coming to see me Kieren. I know this has been a difficult time for you,” the attorney’s sympathetic baritone pulled Kieren from the miasma of her thoughts, “but if you would bear with me for a few moments, there are a few legal matters we need to discuss.” Kieren nodded but did not reply, so he continued. “As I am sure you know, you were your grandfather’s sole heir, so ultimately his entire estate will come to you. However, there is a stipulation to his will.”
“Maybe stipulation was too strong of a word. Perhaps a last request would be a better way to phrase it.”
Kieren stared at the man across the desk. “I’m not sure I understand.”
“Your grandfather would like for you to spend one year in his home in Northern Ireland. He felt you would benefit as a writer and illustrator if you actually spent some quality time in the land where your stories take place. You will be provided for while you are at his home. If, by your twenty-fifth birthday, you wish to stay, or if you wish to return to your life here, everything which was his becomes yours.”
“And if I chose not to go?”
The attorney sighed, “Paddy did warn me that would be your first question. If you choose not to go, then everything which was his would still become yours. Look Kieren, the choice is completely yours, but this was something he really wanted you to do. He knew you thought the children’s books you write were all from the stories he told, but he also knew they were just as much a part of you as they were of him. He wanted you to be able to see that for yourself.”
“But Ireland is so far away.” Kieren was overwhelmed. “I have a life here, friends here. Who will take care of our home? What will my publisher say to me taking off for a year? What…”
The attorney interrupted, “Kieren, breathe. Arrangements have been made to look after your home in your absence. Your publisher won’t care if you write while you are here or over there as long as you can mail her finished product. You’d be in Ireland, not on the moon. They have had mail service for quite some time now. They also have internet. You are not being banished. Think of it as an adventure.”
“When do you need my answer?”
He slid an envelope across the desk, “Your flight leaves out of JFK on Friday.”
“Ireland for a year? Oh Kieren, you are so lucky.” Leila cooed.
Kieren paused in her packing and glared at her friend, “Hardly.”
“Knock it off, would you. Ask any of our friends, they would jump at the chance at spending a year abroad.”
“You make it sound like we are back at college and I’ll be away for a semester.” Kieren sat on her bed and clutched the sweater she had been folding to her chest. “This isn’t college. I’m an adult. I have responsibilities. How can I justify moldering in a cottage in the middle of nowhere for an entire year? What was Paddy thinking?”
Leila wiped away the tear which had trickled down Kieren’s cheek, “He was thinking you could benefit from being near the location your books are set. He said so himself.”
“Can’t I do that in a two week visit?”
“You sound like a bratty six year old who doesn’t want to go to camp!”
Kieren stuck her tongue out at Leila then sighed. “Yeah,” she admitted. “I guess I do, don’t I?”
“Look, take this time to discover your family. You’ve always said you didn’t know much about them. Your mom spent her summers at your grandfather’s home, and it’s where your parents were when they had their accident. I’m sure you’ll be able to dig something up so you can find out about them. And there are probably tons of pictures from when your mom was growing up. Didn’t you say Paddy mentioned his mother right before he died?”
“Yeah, but it can’t be right. She’d be well over a hundred if she were still alive.”
“Some people actually do live that long you know. Well, how old was Paddy?”
Kieren grimaced, “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? How can you not know? You just went through all the paperwork after he died. What did the death certificate say? They had to have listed a date of birth.”
Kieren walked over to her briefcase, rustled through the papers and handed one to Leila, “See for yourself.”
Leila scanned the sheet, frowned and read it again, “June 24th, year unknown. How can it say ‘unknown’? Are they allowed to do that?”
“Supposedly there was a fire many years ago, and all the records were destroyed. Obviously I knew when Paddy’s birthday was, since we celebrated every year, but I never knew what year he was born.”
“Well, it has to be written somewhere. Driver’s license?”
“He never had one. He said he didn’t need it living in the city. Everything he needed was right here, and if it wasn’t, there were taxis and buses and trains he could use.”
Kieren shook her head, “Couldn’t find one.”
“Your mother’s birth certificate? It has to be one there.”
“And it probably is, but she was born in Ireland, in the same town as Paddy, and their records aren’t online. What does it matter anyway?”
“Huh? Oh,” Leila frowned and shrugged. “I guess it doesn’t. I just wanted to know how old he was and then I was going to add twenty years as a good estimate of your great grandmother’s age. If Paddy was only sixty-five or seventy, then the chances your great grandmother being alive are pretty good, don’t you think?”
“I guess. I never really thought about it that way. It would be kind of interesting to meet her. She would be the only family I have left.”
“Wouldn’t that be a nice surprise? But even if she isn’t alive, by you going there, you’ll still get to learn about her and the others too. There are other houses on the island right?” When Kieren nodded, Leila continued. “So, that means they had neighbors. Neighbors who remember them, some probably very well, and since they’re Irish, you know there will be stories that need to be told. Who knows, there may even be some pictures.”
“If any of the old timers are even half as good at telling stories as Paddy was, then I’ll have an endless supply to draw upon for future books.”
“That’s the spirit. See, this is going to be an adventure.” Leila hugged Kieren. “It’s all good. Come on, let’s finish packing. Your plane leaves in less than twenty-four hours, and you still have a ton to do.”
This is insane. I can’t believe I’m doing this! What have you gotten me into this time Paddy?
The pilot had just announced their final descent into Dublin. Seats and tray tables needed to be returned to their upright positions. Kieren groaned, stretched, then raised the hard plastic shade on the tiny oval plane window and squinted against the morning sun.
They had not quite reached the city limits of Dublin, so they were still flying over countryside when the fog dissipated enough for Kieren to get her first glimpse of what would be her home for the next year. Grudgingly she admitted to herself, the land was breathtaking. The bluest blues and the greenest greens she had ever experienced in her life. The ground actually appears to sparkle. She chuckled at the absurdity of her fanciful thought. How could land sparkle or shimmer? It was no different than the grass and fields we have at home. You my dear girl are in serious need of some quality sleep. Sleep you won’t be getting for a good many hours.
“Is this your first time Love?”
Kieren turned to the grandmotherly woman beside her and smiled. Other than a “Hello” when they first boarded, the woman had not spoken a word during the entire seven hour flight. “Yes.”
“And where are you heading?” She gently probed.
Not seeing any harm, Kieren answered, “To my ancestral home on a little island up north.”
“Ah, that would be Tallymore.”
A born and bred New Yorker, Kieren instantly became suspicious of the old woman. “How could you know that?”
“I am no seer my dear,” She laughed and patted Kieren’s hand, “It is the only inhabitable island in the north, so it must be where you are headed. And a lovely place it is, albeit a bit windy and chilly for these old bones. You did bring a hat, a heavy coat and some sturdy boots, right?”
Kieren relaxed and smiled again, “I did.”
“Then you should be just fine, just fine indeed.”
Kieren debated over questioning the woman further about Ireland, hoping to gain information not found in the brochures and travel guides provided by her grandfather’s attorney, but the woman busied herself packing up her knitting, so Kieren turned back to the window to watch Dublin come into view.
She took in what she could, which was not much at a couple hundred feet in the air and at, Lord only knew, what speed. She would only have an hour before her next flight left for Belfast. How is it a flight all the way across the Atlantic took just shy of seven hours, yet it is going to take me another four hours to get from Dublin to Belfast? It makes no sense. I probably should have just driven from here. Perhaps I’ll come back and visit in a few weeks. The attorney didn’t say I wasn’t allowed to leave the island for the whole year.
As the plane locked into the gate and the passengers prepared to disembark, the woman turned to Kieren and said, “Beware the wee folks. They are mischievous at best, and downright nefarious at worst.” Then she hugged Kieren, “Welcome home my dear. We have waited a long time for your arrival.” The woman got up and left, leaving a puzzled Kieren staring at her departing back.
Surprisingly, all of Kieren’s luggage appeared on the carousel. She had been worried the airline would misplace at least one of her three bags during the plane switch. The instructions from the attorney said there would be a car waiting in short term parking which she would easily be able to identify. Sure enough, when she exited the terminal, there was a young man with a sign bearing her name, standing next to a brand new Cayenne.
Kieren blinked, “This is for me?”
“Are you Kieren Byrne Cleary?” He asked.
The man relieved Kieren of her bags, loaded them into the trunk, then plopped the keys into her hand, “Then the answer is yes. Your destination has been programmed into the navigation. Your ferry pass is in the glove box. You should not have a need for petrol any time soon, but when you do, there is a credit card in the box as well.” He reached into his pocket and presented her with a card and a second set of keys. “My name is Thomas and I am an associate of your grandfather’s solicitor. Those are the keys to your home, which has been fully stocked, so you will have a few days to settle yourself before you need to worry about venturing out to restock your pantry. I left an informational packet on your kitchen table, but if you need anything or if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.”
“Thank you Thomas.” Kieren said as she studied the card. “It’s comforting to know I have someone local to call if I need help.”
“My pleasure. There is also a cell phone and another credit card on the seat for your use. The bills for them as well as all the household bills are being taken care of by my office. You are not to incur any expenses during the duration of your stay.”
Kieren scowled, “I am quite capable of paying my own way.”
Thomas raised his hands in surrender. “I am merely following your grandfather’s instructions. One last thing, the cottage does have a caretaker, a Mr. Douglas Madigan, so if you see a little old man puttering about your property, I do not want you to be alarmed.
“I would have accompanied you to your home, but I am attending a conference here in Belfast for the next three days, so, regrettably, I am unable. The drive is only about an hour, so I do not think it will tax you overly much.”
“Don’t be silly. I’m a big girl, I think I can handle it on my own.”
“Excellent. If you are hungry, there are several places where you can stop along the M2, or you can wait until you reach Tallymore. Along the main strip is a pub called Shenanigans. The food is exceptional and it is a favorite amongst the locals.”
“Shenanigans is it?”
Thomas chuckled, “It does have a reputation for living up to its name. You won’t be disappointed.”
“Well I thank you again Thomas, and I will not keep you from your conference.” Kieren shook the solicitor’s hand.
“Again, my pleasure. Welcome home Kieren.” He said, and with a final wave, he was off.
Welcome home. That’s the second time I’ve heard that today. Maybe it’s an Irish thing.
Kieren sat in her car for a moment and studied the traffic pattern exiting the airport. This whole driving on the wrong side of the road is going to take some getting used to. I should be able to handle it here in the city, but I am worried about forgetting on the less traveled country roads. It would be just my luck to meet someone head on.
Slowly she inched her way into the flow.