Hi to all my readers! I apologize for the long delay, and I thank you for all your kind words in the interim. It really makes my day, and inspires me to get going, haha. Here is the penultimate chapter...hard to believe it's here, four years in the making.
As a quick note: the Dance of Death as described here is the final act from Michael Flatley's "Celtic Tiger," which can be seen here: watch?v=om5g_Ztf73I
Except in this version, Don Dorcha isn't flailing about. ;)
Saorise covered her ears as harsh, discordant notes filled the air. The music for the Dance of Death was pure sorrow and rage turned into music; it was hard to listen to and even worse to Dance to.
Dorcha stood in the centre of the first line of Dancers. Unfailingly, he took the first steps: just simple ones, setting a rhythm for the others to follow. The first line picked it up, then the second, and the third and fourth, until they were all dancing in tandem; eighty pairs of feet moving in perfect synchronization with each other and with the music.
Then abruptly the pattern changed; the fourth line broke with the rest and carried the wordless melody as the rest accented and emphasized it, then shifted again; over and over, sometimes moving together and sometimes separately, moving toward an inevitable and terrible conclusion. The music swelled around until she couldn't breathe; she wanted to scream but she knew it would be lost in the cacophany.
The wind picked up, the sky darkened, and thunder rumbled in the distance.
And still Dorcha stood strong.
All around them, the Shadow Dancers had stopped their attack, looking on in interest at this new display of desperation. Only Aiden, the former Lord of the Dance, the Lord of all that was good and pure in Eire, and now the Shadow Lord, wore different expression on his face.
A look of fear.
You know, Saorise thought triumphantly. You know what we're doing, and you're afraid, because nothing you do now can save yourself. How does it feel to be on the losing side for once?
And then just as suddenly as it started, it stopped. Like a physical pressure was taken off her chest, Saorise found herself able to breath again. The lines of Dancers paused, just for a moment. Saorise felt her hopes rise – was it over? Maybe Dorcha was mistaken, maybe he didn't wouldn't die -
And then the first line of Dancers started up again, a simple step repeated over and over again, each subsequent line picking up on the next downbeat. Slow at first, and then faster and faster until it seemed like they were Dancing faster than humanly possible.
Just as she thought it couldn't possibly go on any longer, Dorcha stepped out of line. Her heart sped up. This was it. The Dark Lord threw back his head and lifted his arms. As one, the lines of Dancers stopped.
Like a silent shockwave the deadly, destructive Dance magic flowed over the land, destroying everything in it's touch. One by one the Shadow Dancers screamed in agony and turned to ash, their bodies completely obliterated by the force of the magic.
The Shadow Lord locked eyes on her, his blue eyes wide and pleading, and in that moment he was no longer the Shadow Lord, but the Lord of the Dance, Aidan, once again.
Saorise... whispered his voice in her mind, but the Unicorn's Maiden stood strong.
And then he too turned to ash, and was blown away by the wind.
Shouts of joy went up from the exhausted Dancers, but Saorise only had eyes for Dorcha, who lowered his arms and fell to the ground. She ran ran as fast as she could to him, hoping that maybe she could reach him in time; speak to him before he died, hear his voice one last time...
But it was too late. The Dark Lord was gone.
With a scream of grief she collapsed over him as the skies opened, as though Erin the Goddess Herself was weeping for the fate of Her Chosen. Maybe She was.
An indeterminate amount of time passed. It may have been hours, or maybe only minutes. Saorise didn't know, until a gentle hand landed on each shoulder. She looked up into the concerned blue eyes of Caoimhe. Aithne-Arlana stood on her other side.
"Lady Saorise, it's time," Caoimhe spoke softly. "We must begin preparations for the funeral."
Numbly, Saorise nodded, even though she didn't want to. She didn't want to have her Dancers and Dark Dancers – because they were hers now, because that's what he'd want – bear his body back to the ruined village. She didn't want to see him lain in the centre of the Dancing Circle. She didn't want to build the funeral pyre, and light it with fire taken from the sacred Flame.
She didn't want to let go.
As they stood there, the rain stopped. An unnatural stillness fell over the battlefield. Whispers came from the back of the crowd of Dancers, and they began to part. Saorise looked in the direction of the whispers, and had to blink to make sure that her tired eyes were not playing tricks on her.
Shining brightly in the midst of the gloom all around it, a Unicorn stood at the edge of the forest. As it glided forward, the Dancers drew back; afraid of this immortal being, the personification off all that was pure and good in Eire. The Dark Dancers averted their eyes, feeling dirty and ashamed in this creature's presence.
The Unicorn stopped before Saorise and the fallen Dark Lord.
"Please," she whispered, though she didn't know what she was asking it for.
You have summoned me, came a voice in her head, and suddenly she understood. The Unicorn's Maiden: for years she'd thought it was a meaningless title. But it wasn't; she was the only one pure enough in Eire to seek the aid of the holy creature.
"Please," she asked again, hardly daring to breathe.
The Shadow Dancers were a blight on Eire. The magic they called was not of this Earth, and has disrupted the balance of the Magic, and changed the course of Her Song.
It lowered its head and placed the tip of its horn on Dorcha's chest.
Breathe, Dark Lord. Your time on Eire is not yet through.
Before Saorise could fully understand its unspoken words, the Unicorn retreated back through the lines of Dancers and into the trees. She watched it go, before realizing there was a new sensation under her fingers, still resting over Dorcha's heart.