Here is Episode 2 of my fantasy serial, “The Bridefarer’s Choice”. If you missed Episode 1, you can find it here The Bridefarer’s Choice –Part 1. I know where the story is going, and I think it will take four episodes to complete. I will publish successive episodes every Monday.
I very much hope you enjoy it!
The Bridefarer’s Choice – Part 2
The folk of half a dozen villages knew Mairin from Red Bay. At nineteen years old, she stood tall. Her form, though slender, promised many children. She moved with grace, whether herding cattle or dancing. She was strong, stronger than half the men of the village, and would work in the fields from dawn to dusk without a break at harvest. She was beautiful, and older men said that in her Maeve the Fair lived once more.
Oh yes, she was the girl the lads sighed after – fruitlessly, for she would have none of them. She turned her amber eyes on Diarmid; she shook out her chestnut locks for him.
And Diarmid! He was both tall and strong, and he’d shown his courage often while fishing in one of his father’s boats. He was dark, dark of hair, dark of eye, dark of beard, and yet his hair shone and his eyes sparkled. There was no stauncher friend to have in the six villages.
A great catch for any girl, you might say – but everybody knew he’d favoured Mairin since they were youngsters.
The folk of half a dozen villages spoke as if it was inevitable. Diarmid would make a short bridefaring to Red Bay, and we would celebrate a summer wedding. ‘The day after Midsummer’ said some, for Mairin was to be Midsummer Queen and must needs be a virgin for that.
But then Diarmid went bridefaring.
He cut a fine figure on his jet black horse, with its silver studded bridle. As he set off in the direction of Red Bay, the watching villagers nudged each other. “I told you so,” declared Aisleen to anybody who would listen.
It was shortly after noon that one of the boys from Red Bay came running into our village with the news that Diarmid had ridden straight past them, and along the coast. A day later, a fisherman from Salting brought news that Diarmid had passed their village without so much as a glance. And on Saturday we heard that he’d arrived in Peak Town and spent a night at the inn there.
With her hopes of being a bride dashed, Mairin stepped down from the role of Midsummer Queen. And the folk of half a dozen villages exclaimed with astonishment – except for the few who claimed to have known all the time that it was too good to be true.
It was just before Midsummer that Mairin visited me.
“Reverence, Oldest One.”
“Enter, be seated and be welcome.”
Mairin was breathing heavily.
“Will you do a…a reading for me, please, Oldest One?”
I looked hard at her. It wasn’t customary, or courteous, to seek a reading outside your own village.
“And what is wrong with the reading of Rowan Elder? She, too, has the Sight.”
Mairin looked at the floor.
“She will not give me a reading, Oldest.” She pulled a kerchief from her bag and twisted it between her fingers. A single tear trembled on her eyelash, then dropped to the floor.
“And why would you say that was?”
Mairin shook her head, miserably. “I don’t know, Oldest.”
I looked at her gently. She would have made an excellent wife for Diarmid, but I knew that was not what fate had in store.
“When Rowan or I use the Sight and are given a vision, we only have two options: to tell the truth fully, or to say nothing. We must not lie, or try to change the vision we are given.”
“My fate seems already cold; my heart freezes. What can you tell me that would make it worse?”
“Child, you say that because you are young. There are other men…” And then I stopped. The Sight came upon me like a tidal wave. I was defenceless against it. I saw a bairn, a babe with red-gold hair, in Mairin’s arms. The Sight battered me, and I fell senseless.
I came round to find Mairin’s white, scared face close to mine, as she shook my shoulder. “Oldest, Oldest,” she was sobbing, and the tears were running down her cheeks.
I pushed myself up on one elbow.
“Stop weeping and help me rise, girl.”
With Mairin’s help I struggled into my chair. My ears buzzed, and there was the taste of metal in my mouth. My limbs ached and my hip was sore.
“Pour a little liquid from the pot into my beaker.”
I drank the hot liquid slowly. My heart was steadying.
“Sit down, Mairin.”
She hesitated. “Are you alright, Oldest? Can I do anything else for you?”
“Sit down for goodness sake, and stop fussing.”
I gazed around my room. It was good to rest my eyes on the things of this world after being so deeply in the Place of Sight. My eyes were caught by the dust motes in the sunbeam through the window. I sighed. For a moment I saw myself, and Mairin, and Diarmid as specks of dust at the mercy of fate, lit up for a fleeting moment by the light of this world, only to return to the shadows again, so soon, so soon.
“I have something I must tell you. Just give me a moment or two.”
The herbs in the drink were spreading a glow through my body. Strength was gradually returning. I sat up straighter.
“Mairin Cullough, the Sight has shown me some of your future, and I must tell you of it.”
I paused, ordering my thoughts.
“Diarmid MacDiarmid will not be your husband. He will never lie with you; but you will raise his child. You, yourself, will die a maid, but you will see your child win renown that shall echo down the years for many generations to come.”
I gazed at her. The tears had stopped.
“That is a hard, cold fate,” she said.
And then the Sight gave me one final showing for Mairin.
“You will need help; you will need wisdom; you will need gold. You should come to me for all three.”
“Oldest,” she whispered, looking down at her kirtle. “How can I thank you?”
“Come to me when you need me. You shall be as a daughter to me.”
I rose, slowly. It hurt. I went to her and embraced her.
“Henceforward you are my daughter, and I your mother.”