“That feels wonderful…”
Conor O’Neill was shirtless in a chair in his den area. A deep wound in his left shoulder was being dressed in a poultice of fragrant herbs by a beautiful blonde Sidhe of the Summer Court. It just so happened that the blonde was also a member of his household, a vassal of the Court, and his personal valet.
“Thank you my Lord. I used far less Tea Tree oil this time.”
“It smells better as well.” He flexed his left hand.
“I doubled the Frankincense.” She gently put his arm back at his side. “Now my Lord, please hold still while I empower the poultice?”
For the next few minutes Conor sat still as Roxie, his valet, who also happened to be a Sidhe spell caster of some skill, danced around him deiseal or ‘clockwise’ chanting the words of her spell. It was only a minor enchantment, quickly and easily completed.
“My Lord, again I remind you, the Ritual would be far less complex if you would simply allow me to do it skyclad.” She had an impish grin as she said it.
Conor returned the smile wistfully, “I’m sure that’s true. But we’re tryin’ to heal me, not kill me stone dead.” Skyclad was, of course, a term for ritual nudity. With Ritual magic, personal self confidence and force of will was essential. In many magical traditions, especially the Celtic ones that formed one of the foundations of Fae (and Western European) magic, being skyclad was a classic way to show and demonstrate that confidence… among other incidental benefits as well.
Roxie was wiping the last of the now dried poultice from her fingers with a towel. “My Lord, I have complete faith that your stamina and heart would be sufficient for whatever that would arise in such a situation.”
Lord Dallas chuckled as he stood up. Though he was nude from the waist up, from the waist down he was clad in black armor. The armor itself was of Fae manufacture, a gift from the Lady of the West, the Summer Duke of Fort Worth’s daughter.
“I still do not understand why you will not allow me to assist with your greaves and cuisses my Lord, it would be so much quicker.”
When he had first received the armor as a gift, Conor had allowed Roxie his Valet to arm him for battle. After the battle, similarly, she had assisted him in removing the plates with their myriad straps and buckles. However, the intimacy of the contact and proximity of Roxie’s body had proven very nearly too much for Conor’s self control. He was acutely aware of the lovely Sidhe’s desire to be his paramour. In truth, though every male cell of his body ached to throw caution to the wind and indulge in what was so freely offered… his rational mind, that enjoyed staying a human with a Will that was his own, warned him away.
“Call it a quirk Rox, call it a quirk.”
Occupied as he was with the straps and buckles that kept his thigh armor – cuisses – tight, he stole a glance to the only other person in the room. She was sitting on the dining room table, well proportioned as she was, she was still of Elf ancestry and short… her legs dangled adorably, unable to reach the floor. She rocked them back and forwards. A glint and the movement drew Conor’s gaze upwards.
“Roxie, I’ve been meanin’ to ask. Where’d you get the necklace?”
She reflexively reached up to grasp the silver open right hand with palm forward and fingers together that dangled from a silver chain around her dainty neck.
“This my Lord? We, all of us in thy House, wear it now. Knobbycob cast them a fortnight past. You are the Silverhand, are you not?”
He winced, “Aye, but O’Neill as well…”
Conor’s surname was O’Neill, long ago, a family very strongly associated with ancient Irish nobility. The “Red Hand of Ulster,” the symbol of Northern Ireland, was an emblem sometimes known as the ‘Red Hand of O’Neill.’
When, several months back, he had been officially recognized by the Summer Court as a newly ennobled Earl, he’d received his “arms” or heraldry within the court. The Lady of the West, the Duke’s daughter, had combined the Red Hand emblem with a silver right hand – the ancient symbol of Nuada the Silverhand – and presented them to the entire Court as Conor’s. In a way, within the Summer Court, that ancient family… the Uí Néill to use the old spelling… lived again.
He had a thought, “That seems particularly sentimental for Knobbycob. When did he decide to do this in the first place?” He gave Roxie a raised eyebrow.
She smiled broadly, “Of course I asked him to do it my Lord.” She switched to Gaeilge, the Irish language. “<I wanted all of us in the family O’Neill to be clear about their loyalties.>”
She had used the words “cineáil Uí Néill” for “family O’Neill.” In modern Irish, long and far removed from the feudal system, “cineáil” was simply a scientific and taxonomic term. However, once anciently it meant “family” or rather like the modern Scottish idea of a Clan.
“<We share little common blood my lovely one. Perhaps Tribe would be the better word. >”
When Conor and Roxie had first spoken to each other in Gaelic – Conor spoke Modern Irish and Roxie had spoken Old Irish. In many ways, the languages had become far removed from each other. However, Roxie quickly picked up the mutations of the modern language, and Conor had learned many, many old words – academic words – that he’d had no reason to speak regularly growing up a farmer boy in Connemara. He used one of those words now. He had said Dál for Tribe.
Dál was a dynastic word, it conjured up all the old days of chiefs and warriors, vassals and kinsmen, battles for honor and land and power. It was a very loaded word.
Roxie stopped moving, she seemed to thrum at his word choice. “<Yes. That would be a much better word my Lord for those who serve the Black Knight.>”
That name again.
“Am I really so hated?” He asked, reverting to English.
The reason Conor had a wound in the first place was because of a duty, officially laid upon him, by the Duke of Summer, was to spend a month reducing the numbers of Winter Fae that had recently encroached upon the Metroplex. Conor was certain that the Duke had intended him to kill them all, but in fact, he’d only killed one – a brutal mass murderering Dwarven weapon smith that delighted in bloodshed and ice forged weaponry.
The rest he had… invited… to leave. After facing Lord Dallas, Earl of the Summer Court … often in battle… they often found the offer to leave town with honor favorable to the option of staying, but buried in a hole.
However, a byproduct of this task by the Duke, a nickname given him by the Lady of the West had now grown with a life of its own, The Black Knight. She called him that openly at the Ducal Court now, and she had even gifted him with Fae Armor that was, of course, black. Conor had originally seen nothing wrong with indulging her fantasy of Lords and Ladies and Feudal pomp and pageantry.
That was, until of course, he had tried to talk to some Wyldfae about a matter of information and they screamed “The Black Knight!” and fled from him. His relations with the Wyldfae had grown worse and worse since officially accepting the mantle of an Earl of the Summer Court. It was abysmal now. Which hurt him on a personal level; he’d always had excellent relations with the Wyldfae … when he was one of them; poor and playing gigs in pubs.
“You are not hated by any who do not wear the livery of Winter, my Lord. You are feared.”
“Is there really a difference?”
He sighed, no use trying to discuss mincing words with Fae. However, he had never forgotten watching that silly space movie with Matthew and Erica, they had hated it – considering it inferior to some other trilogy or another – but he’d liked it for what it was, an action flick. However, there had been a little green leprechaun in it that had said, ‘Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.’ He’d thought it utter nonsense at the time, but the line now came back to his mind unbidden.
“I sense much fear in them…” he muttered, misquoting the line.
“Pardon my Lord?”
“Nothing Roxie, just a silly movie quote; comes of spending too much time with nerds.”
By now, all of his armor was fully removed and so he went to get a towel from a nearby cabinet. Roxie came to where he had been and started picking up the armor. She would take it to the armory for repair if necessary and reassembly on the mannequin afterwards.
“My Lord, if we are a Dál… by what name should we be called?”
Conor stopped at the stairs leading up to the second floor and thought for a moment. He grinned as he called over his shoulder, “Dál Ais.”
Roxie giggled and applauded, the armor in her hands clattering. Conor had, of course, chosen a pun. The words themselves, when spoken, sounded much like Dallas as anyone would say it in English – perhaps with an odd accent – but recognizable.
Ais however, had multiple meanings depending on context. Conor had just named his house, all at the same time… The Tribe of the Axis (upon which things revolve), the Tribe of the Return (Silverhand?), and even possibly the Tribe of the Vision or Dream. With a very slight mispronunciation of the ‘A’ in Áis, it was also the Tribe of Facilitation, or said nother way, Favors… as in, the tribe to go to when you needed to get something done.
Roxie curtsied, holding his greaves in one hand, and belt with cuisses in the other. “Tá bród mór orm a bhíonns Uí Néill agus ins an Dál Ais, mo Thiarna.”