Recap: The Connarii find themselves suddenly transported to a land of featureless mist in the middle of the night. King Toryn and daughters Edana and Aislynn need to come up with a plan of action quick. Edana, always spoiling for a fight and eager for recognition, wants to turn around and engage the enemy… a poor plan, since they have no idea how to go back to their old home, but one that ambitious Connariian Camlin, seeking a path to greater influence, tries to get in on nonetheless. Aislynn, though the younger of the two princesses, provides better counsel, advising Toryn to unite the people around a common goal and seek out new lands. But then Aislynn is gripped by a vision and prophecies danger and a challenge for the tribe’s future, shocking her father and sister…
Aislynn gasped, and slumped to the ground as the light from the jewel on her diadem flickered and dimmed to its usual steady glow.
“Aislynn? Aislynn! What on earth?” Toryn rolled his youngest daughter over and brushed the long black strands from her face. Her skin was even paler than usual, and beads of sweat stood out on her forehead, but her face was utterly still. Then the long eyelashes quivered, and she opened her eyes, blinking dazedly.
“Father? Edana?” Aislynn sat up and gazed around at the mists blankly for a moment before seeming to regain focus. “We should get moving.”
“Well, yes, but… what was that?” Toryn flapped a hand, wordlessly encompassing Aislynn’s bizarre behavior over the last few minutes. Edana snorted, though it wasn’t clear if she was expressing scorn at her sister’s display or her father’s helplessness.
“The beginning.” Aislynn responded, and stood up, rearranging the weighty folds of her cloak and brushing back her unbound hair. She looked up at her father. “Only the beginning.”
“Outstanding.” Edana said. Then, brightly, “I’ll just gather the men, then, shall I?”
“Whatever are you talking about?” Her father looked blank, then suspicious.
“Battle, yes? I heard her. “Take up your arms…” right? Father, let me lead them! You know I can. I’m perfectly capable. I’ll have them all suited up and ready to go in no time.”
“Out of the question.” Toryn frowned at Edana. “Put it out of your head.”
“This is not the time, Edana. Right now, our priority is to comfort and direct our people. I think we’ve kept them waiting long enough. You’ll never make any kind of leader, dragging the tribe into battle before they even know what’s happening. Aislynn, anything else to add before I brief the tribe?”
“Hey – if I’m the one who needs to learn leadership, why are you only talking to her?”
Toryn rolled his eyes at Edana and transferred his gaze to Aislynn.
“There will be time later. Right now, if we can just get everyone moving in the same direction. Like I said-”
“Yeah. We know. “Only the beginning.” We heard you.” Edana fiddled crossly with the long dagger at her hip.
“I need your support, now, Edana.” Toryn warned her. “The people look to us for guidance, and as my eldest, you need to…”
“Yeah, I got it. Stand straight, smile pretty, and shut up, right?” Edana gave her father a wolfish grin. “I’ll play along for now, but we’ll talk later about the battle, ok?”
“You know that’s not what I meant…”
“Forget it.” Edana spun on her heel and led the way back into the mass of villagers.
“Listen, my people,” Toryn cried, lifting his voice to carry over the milling crowd as he strode out of the mists, putting on kingly authority like a cloak.
He made his way towards the center of the massing tribe, who quieted, going down on one knee in a murmuring wave. His daughters took up position behind him, Aislynn in a dark pool of fabric and feathers on his left, Edana neat and trim in a personalized version of the standard hide outfit of a Connariian warrior on his right. Camlin crouched restlessly a few feet forward and to the right of him, eyeing Edana, who made a point of staring past his head as if he weren’t there. The young troublemaker had cadged himself a spot at the front of the crowd with a cohort of young friends arrayed behind him. Toryn waited until all had settled and were waiting silently before beginning to speak.
“The worst has happened,” He announced, and his words struck the people visibly. They swayed back before this declaration, murmuring amongst themselves. Shouted questions rang out from the crowd. Toryn held up his hands and waited until the flurry ceased.
“Many of you knew of the conflict that we have been facing; the Council of Twelve has been conspiring against us. They have threatened us, demanding our lands and our service. We refused to bow to their demands. Two days ago, Battle-chief Corwin led a force of our finest warriors to confront the Danaan Council. He should have reached them either tonight, or early tomorrow morning. It is clear that his mission has failed. The Council has followed through on its threat. Through their dark magic, the druids of the Tuatha de Danaan have cast a foul spell, banishing us out of the Earth forever. That curse has removed us from our homes, and placed us here.”
“And ‘here’ would be where?” Camlin interrupted from his position to the right of Toryn, who eyed him for a moment before responding.
“I believe this place to be the Otherworld.”
“The Otherworld spoken of in legend? That is a fairytale, great king. Surely you cannot expect us to believe that we have been cursed into a living myth.”
“Are you accusing my father of lying?” Edana demanded, rising and stepping forward to assume an offensive posture just in front of Toryn. Despite her personal misgivings, there was no way that she would let a challenge like that stand unanswered. One hand rested on the dagger at her hip, while the other casually swung a thick cord that snaked its way up her arm before vanishing under her sleeveless tunic at the shoulder. She stood proudly upright, leaning ever so slightly forward, resting on the balls of her feet. Camlin said nothing, but lifting one eyebrow, returned his focus to Toryn, who laid his hand on Edana’s arm.
“It’s all right. The question is valid. I myself was skeptical at first, but consider: The swirling mists and utterly featureless land. The mystery of how we, all of us in an instant, found ourselves here in the dead of night, with our possessions scattered as if our entire village had been lifted up and transported, leaving only the land and the structures attached to it behind. The description fits completely with that given in the stories, and myths are, after all, stories of truth and of past happenings.” Aislynn smiled at her father’s back. She hadn’t moved throughout the entire exchange.
“That is all conjecture.” Camlin interrupted again. Toryn hesitated, then continued.
“There is more. I do not make these judgments myself. Aislynn is studied in lore and is gifted with the Sight. You are all aware of her status in the tribe. Chief Druid, despite her age; bard and seer of the Connarii. It is her knowing that has led me to these conclusions – and a…” Toryn choked a bit getting the word out. “…ah, vision. We have been graced with Connar’s guidance in this time of trouble.”
“Connar has spoken to us. We his children are ever in his thoughts.” Aislynn stood in a rustling of feathers. Her cloak seemed to move in a breeze of its own around the slim bright flame of her silvery shift and moon-pale skin. The crowd stared wide-eyed at Aislynn in uncomprehending wonder. She knelt again, and Toryn swallowed before turning back to address the people.
“We must move ahead. There is no going back; the curse cannot be broken, and will not allow us to return. Ahead are new lands. Look to your families. Keep watch, and keep together. Do not allow the children to wander, and stay in sight of the group at all times. Spend the next hour collecting what belongings have been transported across the boundary. In one hour we start our journey to whatever world is waiting for us.”
“Hold on there, old man.” Camlin leaned forward, waving his arms in aggressive punctuation as he argued. “Why should we journey blindly in these mists when we know that a perfectly good land lies right behind us? I say we go back. Any enemy can be fought. We will find a way to regain what has been stolen from us and avenge this outrage! I will personally lead a band against our aggressors.” Camlin looked around for supporters, and found more than a few heads nodding.
“I’m all for a good fight, but I don’t know about this wandering in grey mists. I’d rather return to face the enemy I know, than advance blindly into the danger I don’t. We had a good life back in the village, and I don’t see any reason to throw all that away.” Camlin’s voice got louder as he went on, and it rang in Toryn’s ears ominously. Camlin had a voracious desire for power, as well as a strange magnetism and popularity, especially among the younger generation, despite his impure blood, and right now the tribe could not afford to be divided by his ill-timed bid for support. This had to be shut down, and quickly.
“Such talk borders on treason, Camlin Blyc. You are no counselor. You presume to direct your betters? Remember your place!” Toryn glared at the boy for a moment, until Camlin blinked and looked away, retreating.
“Due to the extremity of the circumstances, and the extent of the shock which we are all undoubtedly suffering, I will regard your disrespect as a product of this unexpected shift and forgive it. But hear me. This subject is not open for discussion, Camlin. You will all do as I say for your own safety. There is no going back to the village; that path is closed to us. We can only go forward, and hope to come to a land in which we can build a new life. It will not be easy, but if we stay together and work hard, we shall build a new home far better than the first, under the guiding hand of Connar and far away from our enemies.” Toryn quickly stepped out of the circle before more argument sprang up.
He made his way to one side of the crowd with his daughters, and there they stood, watching the tribe pack up. It concerned Toryn to notice some of the young men gravitating towards Camlin. It would not do for the people to take sides. Enmity would kill far more quickly than any of the unknown perils here; the tribe could not afford to be split into factions, and the blood quarrels were always roiling under the surface.
An hour later, over a hundred families stood assembled in four unsteady columns, all their belongings slung up over their shoulders or clasped nervously in their arms. The mists that drifted between the lines of the procession caught at all sound, wrapping them in ragged tendrils, muffling the senses until the Connarii felt that they were drifting along with the mists, away from everything solid and real. The feeling lasted for only a few minutes, before Toryn called the crowd back to the business at hand.
“My friends, we embark today on a great journey. Do not fear the future, nor harbor regret for what has passed. We have been given a great opportunity; we, the sons of Connar, will have the legendary Otherworld to make our home in. We are in the domain of magic and dreams, a place that previously only the greatest of us, the true bards and druids, were ever given to walk. We will be counted amongst the great heroes, as we have entered into a mythical quest. We have a chance to find the perfect world, and to build a new life for our people there. We move forward, west, to find the lands where light shines eternal. Come with me on a quest for the shining land of Connar where we can live in happiness forevermore.” Toryn raised his hands as the people cheered. When they had quieted, he waved his daughters into formation behind him, and called out to the people. “Forward, for a new life in a new land!”
The first half-day was terribly exciting. The people chattered incessantly as they walked, dreaming aloud about the land that they would find, and the homes that they would build for themselves and their children. There was laughter and singing. Nearly everyone had forgotten, for the time being, that less than a day before they had lived in a large and prosperous village, in a fertile land, where they had been happy and successful. Few recalled the fact that they had been collectively expelled from their homes and shamefully usurped by evil men. Camlin Blyc did not forget so easily. He had inherited good fields and a sturdy house from his father. He had been building his holdings steadily, accumulating wealth and importance among the villagers, garnering respect for the name of Blyc. He had devoted much time and energy in training as one of the young warriors, and had developed a sizeable following among the other youths. He was popular, he was talented, he was wealthy. What if his blood was less pure than most? The younger generation did not care for such things – they had moved beyond such archaic strictures, and they were the ones who would raise him to the top. He had been working hard all his life, and frantically pushing himself in the last three years since the death of his father. He had a plan; marry the eldest princess, take over leadership of the warband, and then, if all went as planned, the tribe itself. King Camlin had such an alluring ring to it. Now all his hard work, all his carefully laid and executed plans had been shredded down to nothing, and thrown to the clinging mists.
“How can we not go back?” Camlin muttered to his young brother, Owen, as they marched near the back of the mass of people. “How can the great Toryn just abandon our homes? How can we listen to him? It is not right. We should return. We should fight for what is ours. It is not a man’s way to allow others to steal from him without retribution; it is not the warrior’s way.” This last Camlin declared proudly, handsome golden head flung back and bright eyes glittering.
A few heads in the near vicinity turned to look, some with annoyance, more with admiration. Young men raised their fists high into the air and called out approval, while half of the young women followed suit (the other half, blushing and peeking out from lowered eyelashes, darted glances at the young men and edged away from their wary mothers.) Camlin waved to these supporters, pleased, and then returned to his sullen musings.
“Have we sunk to this level? A group of helpless women who will stand and watch their holdings be stripped away? A crowd of spineless cowards who turn tail and run at the first sign of a challenge? I am ashamed of us- ashamed of the proud Connarii who fall at the first sight of adversity. We cannot, we shouldn’t, we…” Camlin’s voice sank into guttural expressions of contempt for the honor of his tribe. His brother inched off a few feet, but remained in sight.
Owen Blyc would never desert Camlin. Of the Blyc clan, only the two brothers remained. It had always been a small clan, one that cultivated the frowned-upon tendency to marry outside the tribe, diluting the purity of their blood, and with members who died young more often than not. Camlin’s father, Coll, had married a frail beauty from the willowy Sythann tribe, who had faded after the birth of her first son. The second birth claimed her life. Two years after the death of his mother, Camlin found his father floating face down in the lake. Eight years had passed since then, and Owen had grown up, for the most part, blissfully unaware of his family’s tragic past. He was, however, quite aware of the fact that his older brother had been acting increasingly strangely. Owen stayed close, but not too close. Things were not good. Even a child would know that.