Tiend

Fiction By Julie // 4/23/2010

 
 

"And pleasant is the fairy land,
But, an eerie tale to tell,
Ay at the end of seven years,
We pay a tiend to hell,”
~Tam Lin
Child Ballad #39A
 
Ainé fingered her mother’s old broach while Lord Dagda recited the Tiend Oath. “Seventh Lord, we pledge ourselves freely to you. Whoever receives your sign will come willingly to your realm, that our land may flourish for another seven years.”
She closed her eyes. It is my birthday. It is my birthday. Nothing can happen on my birthday. Fourteen years ago, at this very hour, she had been born.
And seven years ago…tears pressed against Ainé’s eyelids as she remembered the horror of the Seventh Lord’s choice.
 
The Tuatha Dé Dannan held their breath, waiting for the Seventh Lord’s sickle to appear in the hands of the chosen one.
Ainé rubbed her icy palms together, trying to ward off her fear. A sharp pain sliced her ring finger.
She shuddered, stepping backwards. Something fell from her hands onto the emerald grass.
The sickle.
The others drew back, leaving Ainé alone in the center of the crowd. Dagda raised his hands above the crowd. “Seventh Lord, you have chosen Ainé, daughter of Anwyl. She will wait for you at Saman’s Oak as the sun sets.”
It is my birthday. It is my birthday.
“Ainé,” Dagda repeated. “Will you willingly give yourself to the Seventh Lord for the good of the Tuatha Dé Dannan?”
Ainé opened her eyes, fixing them on the criss-crossing willow branches and the sapphire sky beyond. “I will,” she whispered. “I will.”
 
 
Ainé shivered in her thin white cloak, burying her hands in the creamy mane of her palfrey. The soft plodding of its hoofs slowed as they approached Saman’s Oak. “Farewell,” she murmured, attempting to fix the moment in her memory. The purple-streaked sky—the nodding birch trees—the phalanx of geese cutting through the air—
Something stirred in the shadows. A great knight, taller than any warrior among men or the Tuatha Dé    Dannan, stared at her from astride an ebony charger.
“My lord, I have come.”
The Seventh Lord extended a manicured fingernail and brushed Ainé’s left cheek. “Your face is familiar to me.”
“My mother paid the last tiend.” Ainé replied softly. “And her unborn child as well.”
“Call me Saman.”
“I cannot, my lord.” Ainé fingered her broach. “Why did you choose her?”
Saman narrowed his eyes. “I need not explain myself to you.”
Ainé slid off of her palfrey and strode over to his stallion. She ran her fingers through its’ tangled mane.
“Your mother misses you.” The words slipped into the air like the promise of rain. “And your younger brother wants to met you.”
Ainé clung to the horse’s front leg. “I have a brother?”
“Indeed.”
“So the last tiend was paid twice over.” Ainé swallowed hard and looked into Saman’s foggy eyes. “Let him come home.”
“Home? He was born in my realm, child.” The Seventh Lord reached down and laid a hand on her shoulder.”
“Let him go home. I will pay for his ransom.” Ainé carefully loosened her mother’s broach. “This is all I have left of my mother.”
Saman licked his lips. “You dare bargain with me? I could claim your father too.”
“Not until the next tiend. The law only allows one claim.”
“Am I bound by the law?”
Ainé nodded.
“I have a proposal for you. If you can tell me your brother’s name, I will release him to your father.”
“I accept.” Ainé let her mind drift back to the days when they discussed names for her unborn sibling. Cian…Lugh…Canall… A calm before the waiting storm descended on her, and Ainé fixed her gaze on Saman’s eyes. “My mother would have named him Oisin, but she would not slander the name of hero by dragging it into your realm, so she named him Tiend Tiend, Tithe of the Tithe, Threshing of the Threshing.”
 
Saman’s Oak shuddered like a child. A crack ran down the bark, slowly widening into a door. From its shadowed interior stepped a pearl-skinned child, his arm raised against the fading light of sunset. “Wha—what? Where am I?”
“Tiend!” Ainé gasped.
“Who are you?”
“I’m your sister Ainé.” She shed her cloak and wrapped it around him. “Oh, I never thought I’d get to met you.”
“How touching,” the Seventh Lord sneered. “Now Ainé, fulfill your promise.”
Ainé wiped her eyes. “Can’t you give me just a little while longer?”
“No.”
“Don’t leave me!” Tiend cried.
“ Father will find you,” Ainé kissed his cheek. “I am the tiend now. You must have a chance to live in freedom.”
Tiend glanced at the Seventh Lord. “And if he takes me back?”
“This grows tiresome!” Saman plucked Ainé from her brother’s arms. “You are mine.”
“Wait!” Tiend cried. “Give me a token of your pledge.”
“Is that all?” The Seventh Lord laughed. “You may have whatever thing of mine you may hold.”
Tiend ran up to the horse and yanked its tail. The beast reared on its hind legs, whinnying in dismay. “Whoa, whoa,” Saman urged.
Tiend reached up for his sister’s leg, tugging with all his might. Ainé fell to the ground, wincing in pain. The boy wrapped his arms around her. “I choose Ainé!” he screamed. “Ainé is my token!”
 
The Seventh Lord screamed, a harsh, guttural cry like a wounded hawk.
From the shadows of Saman’s Oak, a woman emerged. Her ebony hair, speckled with gray, draped her face like a shroud. Ainé gasped. “Mother!”
Invisible fingers etched a winkle on the Seventh Lord’s marble cheek.
A young man stepped forward, followed by an old woman. The Tiend poured forth from the oak like a gushing spring after the frozen winter. Each of their footsteps on the emerald grass added seven years of age to Saman’s face till it resembled a bony mask. Ainé rose to her feet, staring the Seventh Lord in the eyes. “Your time has ended.”
A wind blew around his stallion, swirling the dark cloak. As she watched, the Seventh Lord crumbled to ash. For two heartbeats, she could still see his horse, great and black against the green wood. Then it shrank into a rat.
Lighting struck Saman’s Oak. It shuddered like a child, then crashed onto the bracken and shattered.
For a moment, the wood was silent.
“Come on,” Ainé took Tiend’s left hand and her mother’s right. “Let’s go home.”

(written for a contest on LoriAnn's blog)

Comments

exceptional

 This was super good. Did you win? I hope you did. You really deserve to with this story

Keri | Mon, 04/26/2010

 You ought to read 'the

 You ought to read 'the Perilous Gard'. It's a sort of retelling of Tam Lin, set in the time of Bloody Mary, and it's really good.
This was good, too, by the way :D

Laura Elizabeth | Sat, 08/13/2011

*************************************************
The best stories are those that are focused, unassuming, and self-confident enough to trust the reader to figure things out. --

http://lauraeandrews.blogspot.com/2014/05/dont-tell-me-hes-smart.html