Those of you who have read "From the Ashes" will recognize a couple names in this week's story. The opening line I was given in the prompt brought the beginning of a trilogy I have waiting in the line of stories to be written following the Icarus trilogy. It's been forever since I've done anything with these characters, and I guess they've been getting antsy. I had to write it.
Anyway, here's "The Journey Begins."
He hadn’t seen the old man since the night his father died. Cathbad leaned on the staff Connor would have sworn he carried only for appearances a year ago. His bushy, white beard and locks were gone, replaced with a woolen cap and patchy scruff along his jaw. He looked smaller, weaker, and far older without the cloud of hair and the pronounced stoop in his posture.
Cathbad’s apprentice followed close behind. She was loaded down with two bags that must weigh half as much as her. Moonlight glinted in her eyes as they appraised Connor and the other two strangers gathered within the clearing.
The wind shifted, and the pungent odor of damp fur assailed Connor’s nose. He fought the urge to stare at the sphinx female crouching across the way. Her unease with his presence and that of the hunter standing between them was palpable from the moment they’d entered the glen. Connor shuddered and swiped at the back of his neck, trying to get the small hairs there to lie back down.
“Why have you called us here?” asked the sphinx.
“Cuchulain is slain,” said Cathbad. “Ulster is without an heir, and Maive will hear of it soon.”
“Why have you called us here?” Connor repeated. “Do you expect us to bury him in secret?”
“No, young healer,” Cathbad answered. Anger flashed in his eyes before it cooled to sadness. He sighed. “As in times of old, we must turn to Tír na nÓg and its king for aid in king making.”
“A druid’s task,” Connor said. “Are you so old, you cannot perform your duties?”
“Cathbad is ill, and time is short,” snapped the old man’s apprentice. She stepped forward, placing herself between Connor and the old man. Her skin glowed pale in the light of the full moon, and eyes he remembered being so dark they were nearly black watched him with anger burning in their depths. “Ulster needs a king before Maive’s raids turn to war. Will you help or not?”
Connor looked from the young woman to Cathbad. Hatred for the old druid clenched his throat and squeezed at his heart. The man’s demands and arrogance cost him his father’s life years ago, and tonight made it obvious time had humbled Cathbad. Connor couldn’t imagine the druid he’d loathed for years asking aid from a sphinx, a hunter, and a lowly healer.
“I will go,” said the sphinx.
“Maive’s men are poachers,” the hunter said. “I’ll come too.”
The apprentice, Deirdre if Connor remembered correctly, thanked the two of them before looking back to him. “And you?” she asked.
“You’ll need someone who’ll actually tend the sick and injured, I suppose,” Connor replied. “When do we leave?”
I cut it close on this one, but it's still under 500 words. What did you think? Let me know below.
And remember, if you have any requests or prompt ideas you'd like to see written, leave them in a comment below. I'd like to make this more of an interactive feature as we go forward, but to do so, I need to hear from you.
You can also find the audio version of this story over on my YouTube channel.
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