Mar. 19th, 2007

"You had better leave me."

He says it, and he means it, even though part of him desperately wishes he did not.

But she told him he carried Dun Maura within himself, and here and now, on Maidaladan, with his body marked by the boar, he can feel the truth of it. This is what he has been searching for all those long nights, with all those warm, beloved bodies. This--tonight--is the last time he will lose himself in the act of love.

The bells are ringing as he saddles his horse, and he knows full well what comes after, for all the priestesses abroad tonight, for the men they will come to.

For himself.

Oh, Abba

He turns his horse to the east, and rides out.

***

He rides out, and up, through drifts of snow, though the path itself is not difficult. He could almost become lost in the quiet inside himself, that deep, dark quiet that leads him ever onward.

But then a shadow moves to his left, and he is aware of himself again, of how alone and weaponless he is on this brightly lit night.

It is no wolf that shadows him, but only a dog, scarred and grey and grave. And oh, but Kevin feels his heart go out to it, even here, on this night of all nights.

"Will you lead me there?"

Kevin is afraid, oh how he is afraid, but something in the face of the grey dog steels his will, and, fear or not, following Cavall, he rides on.

***

The dog stops before a cave, more a fissure, really, and Kevin can feel himself tremble, though his hands barely shake at all.

Oh, Abba

He breathes deep of the sweet, cold winter air, and swings down off his horse, patting its warm side gently before turning it back toward Gwen Ystrat, toward life and warmth and home.

"Go now," he says, and it does. He watches it for a time, watches its warmth leave him behind, alone and cold, and then he turns back toward the cave.

"Well, here goes."

With a slight half-aborted gesture to the dog, to Cavall, Kevin walks into the dark and does not return.

***

He hears the sound of wings.

A bird cries.

He keeps walking.

Something flutters behind him.

He flinches, but moves onward, palms dry despite his fear, despite the dampness of the walls.

Something flutters behind him, some creature of this deepest dark.

He ducks, for a moment only a creature of instinct and primal terror.

When he looks up again, panic momentarily calmed, there is a light.

"Bright your hair and bright your blood."

He spins, turning toward the old woman he didn't even see, milky-eyed with cataracts and dressed in a torn and soiled gown that might have once been white.

Kevin bows, deep and true, to the guardian of the threshold in this place.

They speak, and he does not remember it. The formalities trip off his tongue, falling like stones into the silence here.

"Fool!" She cries, in answer to his questions, all unkowning, and Foolfoolfoolfool he walls echo back.

"Do you think I am alive?"

That word, too, reverberates in the chamber, in the air, in Kevin's heart.

Oh, Abba

It is time, now. The crone points a needle at his chest, at his heart, poised to kill if he answers wrongly. Some do, when they come here. The fear is terrible, the knowing--well. Kevin's shoulders want to bow, his back to break, under the knowing.

"Bright your hair and bright your blood,
Yellow and red for the Mother.
Give me your name, Beloved,
Your true name, and no other."

He could say 'Kevin Laine!' and it would be true. But the son of Sol Laine knows what the real answer is, what it has always been, even back in Canada.

"Liadon!"

He would have thought it to be a cry of despair, the last wrenching words of a broken man, beaten down by fate, by destiny, by what he carries within himself. Instead he feels strength fill him, and feels the first whisper of a gentle breeze against his face.

"Pass," the crone says, "Pass."

And he does.

There is an altar in the inner chamber, a hearth, jagged and made for drawing blood. Blood-price is the oldest price, the woman's price.

The Mother's price.

He lays his head down, cheek cut and bleeding on the jagged rocks. It drips into the bowl, and even as his eyes slip closed he hears a high, ululating, exulting wail behind him. There is joy and sorrow both in the sound.

He knows it well.

The crone, who now is old but no longer hideous, terrible now in her beauty and her grief, her warm, sweet power that will sweep over him and burn him alive.

He welcomes it.

"There is a wish in my heart."

She laughs, knowing the wish, accepting it, accepting him, hands slipping of her clothing, pulling his away from his skin.

Oh, oh this is fire, this is desire, this is the deepest heart of Kevin Laine, the heart he never even knew, and <i>oh</i> he is lost.

"Liadon," she whispers, and then, "Kevin," and then again, "oh come!"

The storm gathers, the power gathers, and they are there, together, united as one, suspended above the chasm.

And then she cries out, one final time, his voice lifting to join hers as they--

--as he--

--as Liadon (Kevin)--

Oh, Abba

--falls.

There is silence.

***

Sol Laine wakes, the sound of his son's voice calling his name echoing in his ears.

Oh, Abba

He doesn't move for a long time, breathing in and out, listening to the silence.

"Oh, Kevin," he says.

"Oh, my boy."

But he does not weep.

He can't. Some wounds are too deep for tears.

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