For centuries the Túatha Dé Danann lived in peace on an island where time flowed more slowly and the seasons were gentle–until that peace was shattered by the arrival of invaders. The Gaels, the Children of Milesios, came looking for easy riches and conquest, following the story of an island to the west where their every desire could be granted. They had not anticipated that it would already be home to others, and against the advice of their druids, they begin to exterminate the Túatha Dé Danann.
Joss, left without a mother and father, must find a way to unite what is left of his people and lead them into hiding. But even broken and scattered, Joss and his people are not without strange powers. Please enjoy this excerpt of Only the Stones Survive by Morgan Llywelyn.
WHEN IT WAS OVER and the soil had drunk its fill of blood, the slaughtered Túatha Dé Danann lay amid their tattered banners. Their weapons of bronze had been no match for the cold iron brought by the invaders.
The most recent battle had reached its inevitable conclusion.
Day was dying too. A low winter sun could not warm the bodies scattered across the plain. Their garments were all the hues of the rainbow; their faces were the color of death. The tarnished sky above them would surrender to a blaze of stars, but for the dead, beauty and brilliance were canceled.
Near the center of the battlefield a man lay curled up like an infant. His blood-soaked garments concealed any sign of life. His shield was shattered, its princely emblazonment unrecognizable. The victors had kicked the ruined shield aside but paused long enough to strip him of his weapons.
The spark within him refused to die. Hot and stubborn, it smouldered with a will of its own. His slow return to consciousness was not pleasant. His mouth and throat were parched with thirst. A thousand angry bees were buzzing in his ears.
Am alive. Yes.
Dizzy, very dizzy.
Without opening his eyes, he knew his wounds were deep. The brain in his battered skull struggled to function. At first he could only manage a single thought at a time, but each led to another, like stepping stones across a river.
This is not the end.
The invaders cannot destroy the Children of Light.
They only want our land.
Our sacred land.
The taste of bile flooded his mouth; his stomach cramped in revolt. He lay very still until he was sure he was not going to vomit. A fastidious man, he did not want to die in a puddle of vomit.
He was not ready to die. Not now and not like this, with so much time still ahead of him like a banquet waiting to be enjoyed.
My time, our time. Together.
He fought to throw off the pain that held him captive.
Terrible wounds can be healed. We can summon the power. Through the ancient ritual.
Are there enough of us left … for the Being Together?
When he tried to raise his head and look around, fresh waves of agony washed over him. He was being torn and twisted—he was pierced and bludgeoned!
Before he could draw breath to scream, the torment ceased. The abrupt shock was almost worse than the pain.
Opening his eyes meant another shock. He was staring into a void, the total absence of anything perceptible to the senses. No sight, no sound.
Is this what death is?
He tried to move; his body would not respond. His limbs seemed to be detached from the rest of him. There was no longer any pain, but he would have welcomed pain. Pain would mean he was still alive.
Like trapped mice, his thoughts raced around inside his skull.
No way out, no way back.
Go forward, then.
He was as helpless as a child waiting to be born.
Born into what?
Part of him longed to crawl into a corner and cower there, gibbering.
No. That is not who I am.
I am me!
As if in response, the void gave way to an impenetrable blackness. Like ebony. Or was it onyx? His frantic mind sought reassurance in definition.
Black means it is … something.
He clung to the thought as random streaks of colored light began to spangle the darkness, warmly radiant lights that appeared both immeasurably distant and close enough to touch.
He reached out to them.
The result was unsettling, as if he were falling upward.
His body responded with a violent start.
Instantly, he was cocooned in a thick mist as comforting as a mother’s arms. Through the mist came the chime of distant bells.
Fear gradually faded into acceptance. His worries ceased to weigh upon him. His damaged body was a burden he need not endure. It would be so easy to let go; he could just drift away and …
No! He concentrated his entire will, his formidable will, on that word. The denial of surrender.
The little strength he retained was just enough to repel the mist. The cloud dispersed reluctantly, fading to a grainy half twilight. He began to see huddled shapes lying near him. Forcing his eyes to focus, he recognized the fallen fruits of battle, left to spoil.
None of those dead bodies belonged to the woman he loved. His relief was greater than his pain had been. She must be somewhere on his other side, then. During the final assault, he had placed himself between his wife and the enemy. When he twisted around to look for her, something tore inside him, but he ignored it. He must hurry to find her; they had a long way to go.
He tried to call her name, but his voice failed. His throat locked on the syllables his heart had sung for years.
Rolling onto his belly, he used his elbows like oars to row across the earth, dragging his wounded body after him. Moving hurt; even breathing hurt. No matter. His agonized efforts were forcing the circulation back into his limbs. His arms and legs tingled as if a thousand bees were stinging them, but he had learned his lesson: pain was good. He scrabbled his way across the broken and bloody ground until he had enough strength to get to his feet. He stood swaying, assessing his condition. Back, shoulders, arms … Yes! He would be able to carry her if she was injured.
But she was not injured; she was waiting for him. Just a few more steps. He would find her soon. Her spirit was calling to his, guiding him. She was at the core of his being; he had never doubted they would grow old together.
Until he found her.
His throat opened then.
The cry he gave was enough to shatter the canceled stars.
Copyright © 2015 by Morgan Llywelyn
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