The brackish water crashes against the aged rocks at her feet, slowly chipping away at the rough stones (maybe if she comes closer the sea will claw away her imperfections too).
The spray is warm against her chilled skin (she's so cold, always cold, like Death is forever caressing her).
The wind whips her curly hair around her face, the red strands reminding her of blood (so much blood everywhere she'll never be able to wash it out).
A part of her longs to throw herself off the edge of the rocks into the churning waters below (the turbulent waves dashing her to pieces, and finally freeing her).
Merida hugs her shawl tighter against her – the coarse material scratchy and harsh on her arms and neck.
It helps, the feel of that stiff cloth, when the call of the Sidhe clamors inside her.
She's six the first time she notices the odd shadows in the corners of her room. Shadows she knows are not from any furniture or cloth. She almost turns over to light her candle, when a warm breath whispers against her ear.
'Don't, they're watching.'
She freezes and lies shivering in fright the entire night, jumping at any little sound.
The strange shadows never do get closer, but neither do they leave.
"Perhaps I am cursed," she says to herself, and takes another step closer to the edge.
The morn after her mother is turned back from a bear into a woman, the sun comes hailing over the hills like a brilliant chariot of fire.
Everything has changed.
She doesn't know this, at first.
The grey halls of her home are bustling with life and laughter for weeks. Everyone is so happy to fix the castle. New statues of brave warriors are erected almost overnight. All the iron and primrose are hurriedly thrown away. Buckets and buckets of baked treats, milk, and buns are left on every windowsill.
"Wouldn't they be better on the table?" Merida asks Maudie, the cook.
"No, no, that would make Them angry. Mustn't leave Them out, you know."
Merida blinks as Maudie scurries off into the kitchen.
"Them?" she murmurs. A thrill of fear crawls through her. She sees all the signs now. How everyone seems to be trying their best to let the Fair Folk in, when They should be kept out.
Merida tentatively approaches her mother on the subject – for everyone knows it is her mother who has the last say in what goes on in the household.
"Mom…don't yah find it strange how many Wisps are hovering around the ground?"
"Wisps?" her mother asks, elegant eyebrow rising. "Ye know there's no such thing, Merida. I'm surprised at yah. You know better than to indulge in such fantasies."
Merida bits her lower lip at the harsh criticism.
But, then, it is her mother's way to ignore and diminish anything that frightens her, so Merida shakes her head and goes to find her father. "Da? Don't yah think it better if we get rid of tha' bear? It might upset Mom."
"Well, she was a bear and yah almost killed her, so…"
"Yur mother a bear?" He laughs until he cries. "Oh, tha's a good one, lassie! I knew you'd inherit mah wit."
She reels back as if slapped.
It's as if no one remembers the magic of this summer; of how her mother was turned into a bear, how her father nearly killed his love, of how it is all Merida's fault.
She ends up hiding her tears and holding he head high, even as the common people and nobles start to whisper about her bad tendency to lie.
So, she learns to keep to herself, to build a wall of indifference around her heart. It's better that way.
She hates how the shadows darken whenever she passes by them. How she sees flashes of bright eyes and sharp teeth everywhere. How nothing is truly safe to her – not her, never her. How no one else seems to see what she does, nor feel the heavy weight of magic that's settled on her land.
She's seventeen – only a year after the 'bear' incident – when her parents are murdered by the Fair Folk.
Everyone says how terrible is that they were caught out in that storm.
So unexpected, they murmur. Froze to death, they did.
But she knows the truth.
Sees the bloodied feet and too wide grins on their dead features.
She heard the frantic music that night, howling against the window panes, as she held her struggling brothers to her. The notes burned inside her, made her feet itch to dance until she couldn't anymore. The salt ring around the four of them was the only thing that kept them from sharing their parents fate.
'We want to dance, Merida,' her brothers beg.
'Not tonight, me loves,' she says, and ties them to the bedposts.
She can't leave her brothers, so she abandons her parents to their fate.
And so, she inherits the throne.
Until such time as one of her little brothers are able to take over, she knows.
The Fae take care of that only two months later.
Harris' small horse throws him, and then stomps him to death – it's extremely unusual for the gentle beast. It's put down before it can harm anyone else.
Hamish somehow falls from the Southern Tower, snaps his neck like a twig.
Hurbert wonders into the forest one morning and never comes out.
She rules her kingdom with hard grace and sadness, earned from many years alone.
The people call her the Wild Lass of the Moors.
She ignores the eyes that follow her as she rides across the plains; both the peasants and the Fae. She can feel the judgement, the suspicions.
And why not?
Everyone is in one the secret.
There's something terribly wrong with their princess.
Terribly, terribly wrong.
So, they all shy away from her.
But that's all right.
She fears herself too.
There's a curse, a girl, and soon, Merida fears, another grave.
A rustle of leaves shakes her from her memories. Her breath freezes in her chest. Her fingers clutch her shawl in a desperate attempt to wrap some kind of protection around herself. She almost can't look over, for fear of seeing some demon grinning up at her.
But it's only her husband, standing just on the edges of the rocks. He's come to fetch her back home, as he always does.
Her lips twitch – whether it's to smile or cry, she's never sure.
It's bookish Wee Dingwall – Finley, she reminds herself, his names is Finley, not Wee – it is he that wins her heart and throne in the end.
Wee Dingwall is skittish as they walk the castle walls.
Merida stifles a sigh.
It's inevitable, she supposes, what with the rumors about her flying around.
Witch, the peasants fear.
Mad, the nobles nod.
"So, Finley," she says. "Yur father sends you again, does he?"
Lord Dingwall is persistent, she'll give him that.
Finley shakes his head, his eyebrows drawn together. His neck is still too long, and his ears too small, but she can see the hint of lithe muscles beneath his shirt and pants, and his face is filling in nicely.
"No, I…I came myself, milady," he stammers.
She pauses. "Did ye now?"
He nods. Bits his lower lip. "I…the books…I have…this is harder than I expected."
She laughs – a sharp bark of sound that causes the guard following to them to flinch. "Is it? I will endeavor to ease you then, mah lord."
He smiles ruefully at her. "Yur such a strong woman, Merida. I find myself at a loss as to how to speak my mind, without sounding like a fool."
Something inside her softens. "Come now, it can't be as bad as all that. Is it yur father again? Is he pushing for an heir?"
"When is he not?"
She chuckles again. "Aye, tis true."
"No…it's not my father, per say." Finley glances at their guard. "Might I have a word in private, milady?"
The unexpected forwardness is refreshing enough that she waves the guard away before she truly realizes her actions.
Finley runs a hand through his scraggly hair, and Merida is reminded of dirty straw blowing in the breeze. Finley sits on the edge of the wall. Merida eyes the little pixie imp beside him warily. Just one push, and the prince will be broken on the grounds below.
Finley notices her gaze and glances to his left, frowning.
"You can see Them, can't you?" he says, looking back at her.
She starts. "Wha –?"
The pixie also stares at him hungrily.
"I've been reading as many books about the Fair Ones as I can," he admits, twisting his fingers together. "There's not many, least not in the common libraries."
Her hands begin to shake, as do her legs.
The imp growls, tiny claws digging small furrows into the mortar.
"I…the ones I found say that iron is a strong ward against mischief." He indicates the bracelet on his wrist. So, that's why the imp isn't acting on its clearly hostile intensions. Finley studies the castle behind her. "I notice you've not add any here. Is it the nobles?"
She swallows. "Yur joke falls flat, mah lord."
He actually glares at her. "Have you ever known me to be anything but serious?"
She finds herself shaking her head. "….no."
"Than do me the curtesy of continuing that belief." He pulls a round iron medallion from his pocket.
"The books said the truer the belief of the person making it, the stronger the ward." He hands her the necklace.
It's pretty, if not a little lumpy in places. On closer inspection, it's shaped into a four-leaf clover.
She eyes the burns on his healing fingers with new awe. "Ye made this for me?"
She slips it on, and feels the cloying touch of the Fae back off enough so that she can breathe again.
"It's a bad day?" Finley asks, striding up beside her as they head back.
She shudders. "Aye."
"I'm sorry. Do you need a new charm? I can heat the forges tonight."
She shrugs. "Perhaps."
"I shall do it then."
She loves that he is always willing to protect her, even from herself.
The night of their wedding is horrific.
The Fae are angrier than she's ever seen before. And she knows why. Finley has dared to claim the mortal They want. He's had the audacity to lay charms on her and himself, so They cannot get too close.
That doesn't stop Them from doing everything else in Their power.
Finley wraps himself around her, bodily shielding her, his eyes wide with fright and anger, as their bed spontaneously bursts into flames, the furniture is smashed against the walls, the floor cracks, and the room shakes as if the castle is trying to destroy itself.
"OURS!" thousands of voices scream.
"Never!" Finley shouts back – it's the one and only time he ever hears Them. "She is mine, and you cannot have her!"
Her wedding gown is grabbed and They try to tug her away from his grasp.
Finley yanks her back, and throws more salt around them.
Tortured howls echo and bounce off the walls.
Merida covers her ears with her hands and cries.
"I think the eastern fields need more wards as well," Finley says as they pass under the castle gate.
Merida shudders as something heavy presses down on her. "That would be best. We can'a afford to lose those crops. Not when the southern ones withered."
Finley winces. "I am sorry for that. I forgot to place the–"
She presses a chilled finger against his warm lips. "Not everything is yur fault, mah love. Ye do more than anyone here."
He tentatively kisses her finger, eyes soft. "Not as much as you."
She snatches her finger away.
She doesn't deserve his admiration, his love. She's the reason her people – her family – is plagued by the Fae.
If she really cared for her kingdom, she'd leave in the night, surrender herself to the Fair Folk, and release the people from this curse.
The winds are mournful as they swirl through the barren trees. Merida slips through the gate, evading the guards with practiced ease. As soon as she's past the walls, the full power of the Sidhe falls upon her. She crumples to her knees, whimpering.
"Please, not yet," she begs. "Let meh disappear first."
The force lifts.
She pushes to her feet, stumbling as a wave of dizziness almost overcomes her.
She turns to the forest only a few miles away.
She will make her sacrifice there.
"Don't," a scratchy voice asks from behind her.
She squeaks and whirls around.
It's not a demon or Fae there.
No, it's Finley, his clothes rumpled as if put in a hurry.
She narrows her eyes. "What are ye doin' out here?"
He glances up at the full moon and shrugs. "Something told me to."
Her heart stops.
He studies the night sky with its eerie clouds. "I will never be as strong as Lucas or as quick as Callum."
She snorts. Lucas MacGuffin might have rippling muscles, but he didn't even make it to the castle before he turned back, saying the lands now gave him an ill feeling. And Callum claimed the sea air was bad for his hair – twit.
Finley takes his hands out of his pockets. The bracelet on his wrist stands out dark against his pale skin. He glances at his boots. "I'm far too bookish. I can't stand the sight of blood really.
And, to be frank, the Fair Ones frighten me to the core. But…"
Merida finds herself leaning forward, even as invisible hands grab her arms and hold her back.
"I would protect you." Finley looks her full in the eyes. "I would kill for you."
She sucks in a sharp breath. "Finley…"
"Please, Merida, don't do this. Let me help you." He takes a small step towards her. "I know I can't get rid of Them, but I can keep Them back. Please, let me do this for you."
Tears blind her. "Yah can't. They're too strong, Finley. They'll destroy you, and everyone around me. You can see tha' can't you?"
As if to prove her point, the clawed hands on her wrists tug her towards the forest.
She goes without a fight.
"No!" Finley grabs her arm, yanks her flush against him, and throws a thick circle of salt around them.
"What are yah –"
"Marry me," Finley demands. "The tomes say that there's no charm so powerful as marriage forged with iron."
"What does that even mean?" she whispers, leaning her head against his boney shoulder, and clutching the front of his tunic.
All around them the snarls of the Fae scream out.
But They can't cross the salt circle for some reason.
"We will line the castle and walls with hag-stones. Your mother's dress will be turned inside out." He lifts her chin, but she can't look at him. "Please, look me in the eye."
She hesitantly does.
He gives her a small smile. "We will weave daisies into your hair. And line your shoes with steel."
Her lips tremble. "It cannot be that easy."
"No," he says. "It won't be. They will fight it. They will always be there. But, then, so will I. You don't have to do this alone, Merida."
She's so stupidly weak.
Now, not only are her people still tormented by the Fae, but Finley is forever trapped here with her too.
The announcement of Finley and her engagement is met with much resistance. Even Lord Dingwall protests the match. Finley, in a rare show of anger, writes his father a long letter that boils down to the lord accepting the match or Finley renouncing all ties to the Dingwall family name. He also points out that Lord Dingwall has four other sons who are stronger than he, so really this is a favor to his father.
Lord Dingwall disinherits Finley.
Finley cares not a wit.
The nobles do.
What good is he without the Dingwall fortune and lands,' they ask.
Everything, Merida states. And promptly sets the date of their marriage for a month out.
(everyone thinks her pregnant)
Finley goes around ripping out every bluebell, clover, and heather garden within and without the castle grounds. He even goes so far as to salt the ground so nothing can grow back.
The people sigh.
He's as mad as she, they say.
No, even more so, Merida think. For he believes he can win.
He leaves the apples trees.
"I've angered Them enough as it is. Best to leave Them something, or They might destroy us all."
"Yur mad," she says.
"Only for you," he smiles, ripping more bluebells out of the dirt.
The demons and Fae around them growl.
"Do you ever regret believing in Them?" she asks him when they're safe in the forge. She sits on the anvil, her toes just brushing the ground.
She's huddled underneath her own bed, her nose running from all the dust around her. The bed frame presses down on her shoulder, the darkness deepens as the sun sets, but she's too afraid to move. At last, the bedroom door opens and she sees Finley's boots walk in. They pause a few steps in.
"Merida? What's wrong?"
"Finley," she calls.
He flinches and then gets to his knees, peering underneath the bed at her.
"There's someone on my bed," she whimpers.
He tells her later that the thing took her form and he'd thought it her before she's called to him.
He picks out a lump of iron. "Sometimes. It's hard, knowing there are such powerful creatures lurking about us."
She nods, and pretends that doesn't feel as if he regrets staying with her.
He glances over. "You're thinking bad thoughts again."
"Tis an awful habit of yours," he says, shoveling coal into the stone forge. The warm embers spark as the new fuel touches them. He stands and cracks his back. "I will never regret marrying you."
"Then, more fool you are."
"Perhaps." He grins roguishly at her. "I'd like to think I'm a little brave and heroic for it."
"Brain dead is more like it," she says, but she's grinning at him too.
"Wounded to the heart, my lady. Your arrow flies true," he wails, pushing the billows to encourage the flames higher.
She laughs bitterly. "Tis all I'm good for."
Wounding you, she means.
He frowns at her. "Why must you hate yourself so?"
She shrugs. "Perhaps for the same reason you must forever be naïve enough to love me."
He glances at the white flames. "If I must be naïve to love you, then I pray I shall never be smart again."
"Fool," she snaps.
"Always." He straightens. "Now, best you get back and hold evening court. I shall endeavor to finish this charm before supper."
She can see the hurt in his eyes.
She always seems to do that, hurt him, say things to demean him.
And still he stays.
"I love you," she whispers to his retreating back.
She can never seem to say it to his face.
'We are slowly winning, Merida,' he tells her time and again. 'Can you not see that?'
The thing is, she can. Truly, she can. Last year, all the crops were destroyed, and many of their boats lost at sea. They barely made it to Spring. But this year? This year only the southern fields are gone. That means something. What, Merida's not sure, but it does mean something.
She's just…she's so tired of fighting this endless battle.
Will it even be worth it, after they win the war?
What will be left?
If it wasn't for Finley, she thinks she might have gathered up the last of her people and shoved them onto Lord MacGuffin, and then gave herself over to the Sidhe. If not for Finley and his determination to fight and fight and fight.
She watches as the Sidhe crawl about the forge and over him. She knows he feels Their touch, for he's admitted as much to her, but he continues on with his work, forever resilient against Their magic. She finds herself glad he's so much stronger than she. If he ever faltered, she might be lost forever. She knows that. But never once has he wavered.
He will admit to fear, to nightmares, but never will he stop his continual fight against the forces that attack their lands.
He loves them too much to give up.
So, yes, he will never be the muscled man of her mother's dreams.
He will never be the brash warrior her father wanted for her.
But he will always be hers.
And that is enough to give her hope.
Because, sometimes, when the sunlight hits her husband just right…Merida will swear she sees bright angel wings bursting from his back.
Le gaspeth! Tamuril2 has written something. I know, I know, its been forever since I posted anything besides my journal, but I promise I am working slowly on all my old/on-hiatus works. I promise. This just called to me, and I had to share it with you all.
Perhaps it will hep tide you over till I can get out more chapters for my other stories?
Drop me a line or two, let me know what you think, please?