Gold for the Sidhe

Title: Gold for the Sidhe
Time Period: April 7, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: A revisit to the good parts of childhood, even if the circumstances are less than ideal.

Footsteps can be heard moving softly up the steps leading up to Luna’s room, the top step creaking. Then comes the murmur of hushed voices outside the door. It’s too hard to hear actual words but they speak in the manner of those in a sick house in soft, somber tones. One higher pitched and the second a bass that is harder to make out given its lower timbre.

Finally the door knob rattles and then the door swings open, Beisdean’s tall form filling its frame. He holds a book in one hand and a tray of tea cups in the other.

“Thanks,” he murmurs softly, and there is an unintelligible murmur of the woman who closes the door behind him with the softest of thuds. Beisdean moves to the bedside to set the tray down, eyes darting to Luna’s form in the bed.

"She ain't been down in a couple'a days," the female voice on the other side can be heard as she closes the door, "not that we miss her much."

The light inside the room is the filtered sort, it's occupant trying to block out all sunlight from her life. Luna lays in the bed, curled on her side, hair that was once wet is matted and glued dry to her forehead and face. There's no movement from her aside from a seizing of weak muscles every few minutes. No sound, aside from shallow, heavy breaths that shake upon exhale.

It isn't only Luna that's in an unkempt state, the night shirt she wears is stained from a small spot of blood at one shoulder and large circles of perspiration on the back, neck, and underarms. Her pastel patched quilt and lace coverlet have been kicked to the floor, the top sheet tangled in a pile at her feet. Pillows that are usually carefully arranged are tossed carelessly around the bed save for the one clenched to her abdomen.

After setting down the tray, the man turns to extricate the tangled sheet from her feet, then picks up the other blankets to fold and lay at the foot of the bed in case she gets cold later. He looks around for a moment, then moves to the window to crack it a touch, to let in cool, fresh air and let out the stale.

Finally, Beisdean turns back, pulling up a chair next to the bed and settling himself in it. The book is cracked open, and he looks at her to decide if she’s awake or not, but speaks regardless.

“We’ve hot tea if you’d like some. I thought I’d read. Have you read The Canterbury Tales?” The book is on loan to him, and held like a treasure in careful hands.

When the cool air wafts in, Luna immediately begins to shiver. The sheet is pulled over the spotted shoulder but fails to cover the rest of her body. She's either too weak or too far gone to correct it. Bleary eyes focus on a scratched patch on the wall nearest, an abstract smile to help her through troubled times.

"No," she squeaks. No to the tea, no to the book. She's never read it. Then she looks at him, brows furrowed in confusion. "Why're you here?" It's the you that's emphasized, like he's the last person she'd ever expect to see when she's knocking on death's door.

When she shivers, he stands to get the quilt that he’d folded, shaking it out and tucking it around her. He doesn’t speak as he pours a cup of tea and sets it down on the edge of the table, should she wish it. Another cup is poured and this Beisdean sips from before settling back into the chair.

He turns the page to the beginning of the story, ignoring the question and the intonation of the pronoun. “It’s Chaucer. It’s medieval, but surprisingly interesting. A group of travelers are telling stories in a bit of a competition as they make a pilgrimage. I thought I’d read a bit today, and I thought you might want to listen. I can read something else if you like.”

Finally he looks at her, brows raised as he waits for her reply.

"Am I dying, Baizey, is that why you're here?" The avoidance of her question is noticed and called out quickly enough, but it's strangled at the end by a small cry and another cramp of her tired body. Luna closes her eyes to avoid spilling any tears that might give away her weakness, too proud even now to admit to any. Especially in front of present company.

A frustrated sigh sees the blanket kicked off again, claustrophobia taking a higher level on her ladder of importance than chill.

The sheet is kept up around her but looser, allowing her to turn onto her other shoulder, facing him instead of the smile on the wall. "I don't want to hear about that," she grouses, her mood mired somewhere darker than the room they're in. "Can you tell me a story instead, like you used to when I couldn't read?"

The blanket is picked up and set aside again, and Beisdean shakes his head. “You’re not dying, Loon. It might just feel like it. You’re getting stronger with every moment.”

He closes the book and sets it on the table, the tea cup picked up instead and a sip taken. “Not far from here,” he begins, a gesture to the northern corner of the room, “two fishermen found a beautiful woman unconscious on the shore. She was the most beautiful woman they’d ever seen; her golden hair shone like gold and silver at once, and they thought she looked like an angel. When they wrapped her up and took her back to the town’s healer, she awoke, and demanded to know where her wee bairn was.”

Beisdean shakes his head. “‘You were alone when we found you,’ the fishermen told her. ‘There was no child with you.’ But the woman insisted that she’d had a wee son with her, that she must have slipped and hit her head on a rock. The men went to the shore to search but no child was to be found.”

An angry little furrow of eyebrows is what Beisdean receives to his pooh-pooh of Luna's imminent demise. He's not a healer, he doesn't know if people are dying, only after they're dead. Which she might be. Narrowed eyes study him for a long moment before the blonde woman settles in for her story. Indecisive about the issue of blanket vs. sheet vs. braving the cold, she settles on merely pulling the quilt alongside her thin body and hugging it close.

"Was it near the place you helped me get to? I met a man there as well…" She used to talk and ask questions back then too, an annoying habit that never got broken. "Perhaps one've them was the man I met." Even though she hasn't seen Beisdean to relate the story, she's sure gossip got around about her near wedded bliss.

His lips quirk into a near smile at her interruptions, but as he did when he was a small child, he ignores her attempts to relate the story to herself. “The villagers tried to get her to stay. ‘We have many fine lads you can marry, more bairns can be had,’ they told her, but she thanked them and went to search for the bonny baby, going from croft to croft and village to village, until she came upon a band of gypsies. The young woman found the oldest, wisest gypsy in the camp, and the wizened woman agreed to try to see, for she was a mage, what had happened to the baby.

“Holding the woman’s hands, the Seer sat for many hours, the campfire burning down to nothing but embers as the old woman rocked back and forth, murmuring something in a language the woman did not recognize. Finally, the old lady opened her black eyes, which were wet with tears. ‘Give up, lass, for there is no use. The child was taken by the Sidhe, and there’s nothing you can do.’” Beisdean’s voice shifts with each speaker, not quite going into a falsetto for the women, but taking on different tones and accents, this last one harking to the mainland to the east and beyond.

"Hhhnnnngghh…" The story is interrupted by something that sounds like a dry heave, but it doesn't take long to see that it's yet another bout of withdrawal. Teeth clenched and eyelids squeezed shut, Luna curls tightly into a ball, rocking on the mattress to soothe a little of her pain. Whimpers turn to a small cry as the muscles finally relax and the blonde is left in a small semblance of comfort, relatively speaking.

A sniffle of tears signals the end of it and she wipes her eyes. The pillow recently held to her abdomen is put back in place and she shifts to find a warm spot, or a spot that hasn't been sweat through. "She didn't give up though, did she? She went to look for the bairn, aye?"

Beisdean’s hand moves to Luna’s back, to rub lightly as the pain wracks her body. He doesn’t speak for a moment, watching her with worried brows, but then when she speaks, he nods. “She said she would die if that were true, that she wouldn’t live without her child, and the old grandmother took pity on her; realizing the mother was willing to die for the child, she gave her a glimpse of hope. ‘There is a way, but it is difficult and dangerous. The sidhe love beautiful things, amazing treasures. They cannot say no to something rare, one of a kind objects of art. If you can find such a treasure, you can bargain with them.’”

He lifts the second cup and brings it to Luna’s lips to sip if she wants to, though he doesn’t force the issue. “‘But,’ the gypsy said, ‘you will need two such objects. One to get into the Sìdhean and the other to bargain with whomever has your bairn. And you must do so by the full moon, or the time will pass too fast and your child will no longer be a bairn any longer.’”

His eyes scan Luna’s face. “But what does a poor widow have to give to the sidhe?”

The tea is refused. Luna's head swings away and a hand is put over her mouth and nose. The other is used to gently push at the cup of hot liquid. She's not in the mood for tea, only more stories. This is conveyed when her eyes find his and a breath taken, presumably to ask more questions.

"Her hair, she could give her hair," the prostitute fills in, pulling the pillow up to her chin as she watches the storyteller. As for the other object, a shrug. She doesn't know.

The tea is set down again, within reach, and Beisdean reaches to push a strand of Luna’s blond hair behind her ear. “You are very clever, or you’ve heard the story before, or perhaps I have done my job as a storyteller and foreshadowed adequately,” he teases, then takes a breath to continue the story.

“The woman couldn’t think how she would find two treasures in such a short time, but soon she remembered the stories of the cloak of Nechtan mac Der-Ilei and the harp of Uurad mac Bargoit. She knew what she could do, and within a day, set off for the shore. There she found the nests of the eider ducks, and she gathered up all the down she could. She then sought the beach for the skeletal remains of some creature, finding at last the ribs of a kelpie that would serve as the frame for a harp.”

Beisdean takes another sip of his own tea, then reaches to tug a lock of her hair again. “And last of all, she chopped off her golden hair, to weave into the down for a cloak of white and gold and silver that gleamed like moonlight on the water. She braided thin strands of hair and strung them on the ribs of the kelpie, and strumming them, produced a chord full of all the longing and mourning she felt for her lost child. Even the sea birds above stopped to listen, so beautiful was the sound. And with that, she went to the sìdhean and all along the way, people moved out of her way, so beautiful was she with the cloak around her shoulders, with her eyes so full of determination to make her journey.”

When every part of one's body feels as though it's being run through with swords, the simple act of tugging a lock of hair becomes something else entirely. Luna's hand comes up to wave Beisdean's away as she turns her head to avoid the small gesture of affection. She doesn't scold or complain, but she does lie back on the pillow and pull the sheet up under her chin, hiding much of her own golden mane.

"I knew she'd give up her hair. If I was to save my child, I would do the same." Not an entirely selfless gesture on the part of the woman from the story or the prostitute but it's a matter of vanity. Luna has an over abundance of that.

Her would-be sacrifice is rewarded with a smile, and Beisdean relents on the teasing of her hair, leaning his elbows on his knees to continue the tale. “The full moon was high in the sky when she came across the entrance to the sìdhean. She could not enter it, for it had been warded against mortals like us, but she lay her cloak across the path into the enchanted wood, and soon enough, a sidhe came upon her — terrible and beautiful at once, alien in its grace. The sidhe grabbed for the cloak, but the lass was too quick and grabbed it.

“‘That is mine,’ she told the fae, who offered to buy it, but the woman refused. ‘It is not for sale for gold or gems. It will cost you something more rare.’ The sidhe asked what, the greed for the cloak gleaming in jewel-like eyes, and the woman asked for accompaniment into the sidhean, and to be brought to the king. It didn’t take the greedy sidhe a second’s thought, and she agreed; with the cloak around her shoulders, the fae brought the mother into the woods to the king who glowered upon her from his throne.”

Again Luna shifts, seemingly uncomfortable in her own skin. She scratches at her shoulder where the blood has already spotted through, creating yet another small blossom. Another adjustment of the sheet has her rising against her pillows to lean back instead of lay down, then she reaches for her tea with two hands. It becomes apparent why when she lifts it, the shaking a little too much to keep the liquid inside the bowl of the delicate cup.

Her face twists with one bitter swallow before the beverage is replaced on her bedside table. Then more interruptions burn on her mind, she’s not the sort to hold back. “I hope she gives the king what for, stealing babies is wrong.” Much more wrong than anything Luna has done in her life, to be sure.

Beisdean’s voice grows cool and menacing as he portrays the king. “‘Why have you brought this human here? What is it you want, and what is it you have?’ He pointed to the harp that the woman held in her hand, and she strummed the strings made of her own fine hair, and every fairy in the sìdhean gasped in awe of the beauty of that single magical note. The king would have to have it, for it was clearly the finest instrument any of them had every seen. Like his subject, he offered gold and jewels, even motioning to the others to bring forth all of his wealth to lay at her feet, but the woman stood, steadfast in her resolve.

“‘I’ll not trade it for anything in the world but my child,’ said she, ignoring the growing pile of jewels and silks and gold. Finally the child was brought forth, a fair-headed little urchin who had become the pet of the sidhe in his short time with them. ‘Have the child, what care I for such a thing!’ the king said, angrily, and she gave him the harp. As he began to play, his subjects clustered around him, forgetting the little boy and the mother, who stole away out of the sìdhean, content with the richest treasure of all.”

He rests back in his chair, having concluded the tale, eyes studying her frail form.

She seems satisfied with the outcome, if the small smile on her dry lips is any indication. Letting loose a sigh, Luna tilts her head a little to the side to watch Beisdean, her brow furrowing as she realizes his gaze lingers much too long for her taste.

“What is it?” She places a hand to her chest where an ancient coin dangles from a medallion, then looks down at herself. The vain lady is, of course, in no shape to entertain company. In any form. “Don’t look at me like this, I’m ugly and dirty.” His voice is all well and good, but his eyes she could do without.

He shakes his head at the display if vanity but with no disdain. "Just a little dirty, but not at all ugly," he murmurs. Blue eyes move away to look around the room.

"Let me find you a clean nightgown, maybe bring in a basin for you. You'll feel better for it, aye? Or I can get one of the other lasses to help," he suggests while wiping a bit of sloshed tea from the wood of the table.

“No,” Luna blurts all too quickly, a glare is pointed at the door before she shrinks down into her bed. “I don’t want any of them in here, they steal and wreck everything. My new mattress was spoiled because of one of them.” She’s still sleeping on it, so it couldn’t have been too ruined, or she just doesn’t have enough favor to replace it. But she doesn’t know how many of the women downstairs were taking advantage of her bed or her clients during her absence, the thought makes her skin crawl more than it already is from the lack of medication.

She does nod her consent though, to the bowl of water and the offer of a new nightshirt. What she wears to bed couldn’t exactly be called a gown; it’s plainer and shorter, going only to mid calf instead of all the way to the floor like her usual fare. “They’re in the wardrobe,” is the submission to his help.

Beisdean doesn't argue with her regarding the other, though there is a rise of brows to indicate he doesn't quite buy "all" the girls ruin "everything." He stands and moves to the wardrobe, finding her a gown.

Setting it down beside her, Beisdean smiles and bows. "I'll be right back. And then we'll wash your hair to get it bonny enough to bargain with a sidhe with." He winks and slips out the door.