O Pale Moon
My first story for a while but my Muse seemed to have deserted me for a long holiday (perhaps returning home to Ancient Greece, there to sup ambrosia with the Gods). But she appears to have returned with a vengeance, throwing me ideas for three separate stories at one go.
Firstly there is O Pale Moon, a tale of the Celtic Samhain (Hallowe’en) and the strange beings which may appear at that time. Think of it as you wish: either a late story for last Hallowe’en or an early tale for the next one. There are several different categories I could have placed O Pale Moon under but as the two main characters are young women who fall in love I opted for this one. Next there is a Lovecraftian story, Across the Reef and into The Seas, for those who enjoy weird tales. And finally, last year’s author challenge to write a hard-boiled detective story in the style of the late US writer, Mickey Spillane, is being repeated and goes live from 18 July: my submission is called Down Among the Dead Men. Both of these latter stories are under the Non-Erotic category.
I hope you enjoy any or all of them, depending on your tastes.
Characters in sex scenes are eighteen years old or over. All characters and most places are imaginary–any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.
Copyright © 2022 to the author
“The moon is magic for the soul and light for the senses…”
* * * * *
“Oft-times have I told you tales of the mighty heroes of our ancient land, the great chieftains such as Turlough of the Singing Sword and Cormac the Cunning or Red Rory Bloodaxe. But three days’ time is an oíche roimh Samhain, the eve of Samhain or All Hallows Eve as the followers of the new religion call it. Now I walk from village to village, as do my fellow tellers of tales, bringing a warning as we do every year at this time, of the creatures that stalk the night until the sun rises on the first day of November.”
Skinny fingers plucking first at his wispy beard and then his small harp, Tige the Storyteller turned his near-hypnotic gaze upon his audience, one by one. The whole village was there, more or less, surrounding him. The children were agog, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, the adults less so for they had all heard Tige’s tales time and again. Still, they paid close attention for it was unwise not to heed him at this time of year.
“First, there are the beings which, although essentially harmless, do make mischief at such times as this. They are the many fairy folk, known variously as an daoine or the sídhe, or the fae or even luchorpán the leprechauns, although the latter are usually too occupied with guarding their crocks of gold to concern themselves with trick-playing. Sometimes you can avert the tricks of the little people by leaving a dish of milk and a freshly-baked cake for them so that they may refresh themselves.
“But take heed, for worse things stalk the darkness on the eve of Samhain.” Tige snapped his fingers and a leathern mazer of newly-brewed ale was brought to him. “You will all know of the bean sídhe, the banshee,” he continued, having taken a mighty draught from the jug, “which in itself is harmless but beware should it wail and shriek at your gate for it means there will soon be a death in the household.
“You must be sure to bar your doors against the sluargh, the soul hunters, or the leanan sídhe and the abhartach, both of which seek to slake an unnatural thirst with the blood of human beings. However, these creatures may enter your house only if invited. Beware and resist their blandishments for their tongues are as silver and their entreaties are as gold. I tell you that a sturdy man of the house should stand guard by the entrance night-long until the rising of the sun banishes these creatures for another year. Let him bear a rod of iron for the night-fiends are repulsed by iron.” The men of the village nodded. All understood this precaution.
“Then venture not into the night for the worst of these are the ciaróea, the were-beasts and shape-shifters who would rend and tear and feast upon human flesh.”
“What of The Pact?” cried a falsetto voice from the assembled crown, “You cannot issue all these dire warnings with mentioning The Pact!”
Tige glared. It was, of course, Biddy, the wise woman of the village, the one person who would dare to interrupt Tige’s lectures. He tended to ignore her, believing it was not a woman’s place to break into a man’s conversation, even when she knew as much as he and perhaps, in some matters, more than he. But there was a clamour from the children. “The Pact! Master Tige! What is The Pact?”
Still glaring at the old woman, the storyteller continued with ill-grace. “You wish to know of The Pact… Well, it kaçak iddaa is said that long, long ago, long before the coming of the new religion, this land had many powerful gods, gods such as Daghda the Father, or Lugh, the god of sun and storms, or The Morrigan, Goddess of War. At that time the land was peopled by two races, the humans such as we and the ciaróea, the shape-shifters, and the twain were constantly at war with one another, fighting to the point of near-extinction for both. This displeased the gods, for who would there be to worship them and make offerings if the land-dwellers destroyed each other?
“And so it was the gods summoned the leaders of both men and ciaróea and compelled them to agree a pact, The Pact, that they would live in peace with neither side molesting the other. The open land would belong to men, the great forest, where there is ample game, to the shape-shifters. Both would be granted leave to walk the others’ lands as long as they walked with respect. Men could take small game for the pot and the shape-shifters amounts of grain to bake bread. All that was asked was that both remained reasonable in what they took.”
“What form do the shape-shifters take, Master Tige?” called an urchin with a runny nose.
“They normally walk the land as men and women, looking much like us, but can adopt many forms,” replied the storyteller, “from the smallest mouse to the fiercest of creatures such as the wolf. Most tend to adopt one shape and stick with that. It is said that until they reach the age of one-and-twenty they can change only when bathed by the light of the full moon. Once that age is attained, the gods have granted them the power to change at will.”
“Why should we fear the shape-shifters if they honour The Pact?” asked a near-grown youth.
Tige tapped the side of his nose wisely. “Throughout the years, there have been many on either side who choose to ignore The Pact. Be aware and do not trust the night. Men have slaughtered ciaróea, ciaróea have slaughtered men and it shames me to say that often men have displayed less honour than the shape-shifters” he held out the mug for more ale and continued: “Although much of this occurred in past ages, the peace is an uneasy one.”
“Are there shape-shifters in our lands, Master Tige?” asked a broad-shouldered youth with curly black hair.”
Tige waved his hands about and gave a vague reply: “There may be, who can tell?”
“What Master Tige failed to mention,” added Biddy with a smirk, “is that many people no longer believe in the ciaróea, especially since the new religion came to the land and their priests condemned such belief as no more than superstition.”
“Pah! What do they of the new religion know?” sneered the storyteller, “Foreigners all—they are new and know little of this land. And what of you, Mistress Biddy, do you believe in the shape-shifters?”
The old woman shrugged. “I have seen no evidence one way or another. But as ever I will heed your warnings, Master Tige, and will keep my door well-barred and bolted with fastenings of iron on the eve of Samhain.” The storyteller smirked as his old adversary made this concession.
A young woman called Shona stood a little way behind the crowd of villagers, her copper-coloured hair gleaming in the sunlight. She was not of this village but lived in a place a mile or two to the north, beyond the nearby forest. She had come out this morning to barter some goods and to collect mushrooms and various herbs from among the trees. Having heard that Tige was visiting the village, Shona had decided to stay a while to hear his stories. Having heard all she wished, and none of it new, she picked up her wicker basket and walked into the forest, taking one of the well-beaten pathways alongside of which a clear and shallow stream chuckled as it broke over rocks.
As she strolled along, Shona mused on what she had heard of the new religion which was yet a long way from reaching these parts. It was said that their god had manifested in human form and had died nailed to a cross, only to rise again after three days. She was aware that when coming to a strange district, the priests of the new religion crushed belief in the old gods, denying their very existence. At times Shona had wondered why Father Daghda and his pantheon of gods had not reached out to drive down these upstarts. Perhaps the new religion’s god was indeed more powerful than the old gods, strange as that might seem.
* * * * *
Hidden by a thick undergrowth of twisted tree and bush limbs interwoven with tangled and viciously-thorned brambles, the creature padded along silently, its way parallel to Shona’s path. It had picked up the girl’s scent among those of the village crowd and had waited for her to detach herself and enter the forest. Shona was alone and an easy quarry to pursue.
* kaçak bahis * * * *
Shona’s thoughts moved from pondering the mysteries of the new religion to her own desires. Shona had but a few days to wait before she attained the age of one-and-twenty and was able to embrace the full ways and freedoms of her people. It seemed absurd to her that she must wait, so close and yet not so close. Still, their ways were their ways and part of her and she must have patience.
She reached the glade she had been aiming for and was pleased to see an abundance of mushrooms and the herbs that she wanted. By habit, she thanked the fairy folk for their bounty before starting to gather the mushrooms.
* * * * *
The creature’s keen senses told it that Shona had stopped to carry out her tasks. There was a slight gap a few feet on and the creature slipped through it to enter the glade with a low growl.
* * * * *
Although alerted by the growl, Shona did not look up from her task but continued to select the finest-looking of the mushrooms. After a moment she said: “If you sought to startle me, you should know better by now.” She turned then to look at the white wolf which had entered the glade so close to her, head lowered and creeping forward as if stalking prey. The animal’s blue eyes blazed as it approached the girl. Shona showed no alarm but smiled with joy. Holding out her arms, she said: “Come to me, my Maeve. You are so beautiful.”
There was a strange shimmering in the air around the wolf then in its place stood a tall and beautiful woman who did as bid and went to Shona’s arms. Their lips met in a long and fierce kiss as they held each other tightly…
* * * * *
…the pair had met some eighteen months previously and in similar circumstances. Shona had been in the forest, to the glade where she often found the plumpest mushrooms, the freshest of forest berries and the most aromatic herbs. The day was hot and Shona, being in no great hurry to complete her given tasks, thought it would be pleasant to rest awhile in this quiet place, undisturbed by anything save the sweet trilling of song-birds in the trees and bushes about her. Lifting her shift-dress, her sole garment, she settled beside the chuckling stream, the mossy bank soft and cooling beneath her bare bottom. She refreshed herself by dabbling her feet in the cool water.
Then she felt that she was not alone, the heightened senses bestowed by her heritage telling her that another was nearby. She turned when she heard a low growl and saw a white wolf emerging from among the trees. The beast crouched as if preparing to attack and slunk forward, eyes fixed on Shona.
Shona relaxed with a sigh. “If you think I’m afraid of you,” she laughed, “you are very much mistaken. If you want to frighten someone, go and find some ignorant villager to do so. But remember, the gods frown on those who would break The Pact.”
The wolf arose from its hunting crouch and sat back on its haunches, head cocked on one side as if puzzled.
“Come on,” the girl said, “come on and show yourself, if you are able.”
The wolf stood and shook itself. Its fur rippled and crept in an unnatural way and the very air around it seem to shimmer. And then in place of a wolf there stood a tall and lovely young woman with startling blue eyes and a cascade of silvery-white hair which hung well below her waist.
“Did you not recognise me for what I am?” asked Shona “Were you truly trying to frighten me?”
“Of course I recognised what you are,” the woman replied, “I just wanted to see if you had courage.” She seemed to ponder for a few seconds then added: “I’m Maeve.”
Taking her feet from the stream and standing, the girl said: “And I’m Shona.”
“You are of the forest pack,” said Maeve, a statement, not a question.
Shona nodded. “And you?”
“I am of the hill pack.”
A worried look crossed Shona’s pretty face. “Then we are enemies,” she said.
Maeve did not reply. She stood, head cocked on one side as if listening. Without warning she seized Shona’s arm with one hand while scooping up the girl’s basket with the other. She hustled Shona from clearing, almost dragging her among the trees until they were well concealed. “Men coming,” she hissed, “Stay quiet.” Moments later a band of half-dozen or so rough-looking fellows crossed the clearing, some carrying large baskets filled with fallen wood, others wearing belts laden with various tools. They disappeared into the trees at the far side of the glade. When Maeve judged that the men were out of earshot, she whispered, “Charcoal burners and tinkers, not always to be trusted. Most are honest workmen but there are always rogues amongst them. A lone girl such as yourself might be in peril from their lusts. And that could trigger illegal bahis conflict between our species.”
“And would you not also be in danger from them?”
Maeve grinned. “I don’t believe they would linger to confront an angry wolf. She looked around the glade. “This is a fine enough place for collecting berries and fruits but as you have just witnessed, others do come through here and often. I know a secluded place where no others tread. Will you come with me so that we can get to know each other?”
“What is your intention,” said Shona, “are you going to change back and devour me?”
Maeve laughed, a beautiful silvery sound reinforced by the whistling and chattering of the birds among the leaves. “Well, you would make a toothsome morsel but I have broken my fast for today so perhaps not.” She held out an elegant hand which Shona accepted after a moment’s hesitation.
For reasons time itself had forgotten, there had been decades-long bad blood between their packs. Mostly the pack members tended to avoid each other or to tread carefully when encounters could not be avoided but occasionally there was an eruption of violence, usually among the immature younger males of the packs. Then the pack elders had to meet and thrash out new peace proposals. “If only the damned fool youngsters could see how much better off we would be as a combined pack,” Darragh, Shona’s father, had once complained over their evening meal. Darragh was the acknowledged Beta male of the pack and generally accepted as having the finest mind of them all, even when in wolf-shape.
Maeve led Shona along yet another track, this one largely concealed by layers of bracken and wild forest flowers. Several minutes of walking brought them to a small glade carpeted with thick layers of moss and tiny flowers. Boughs overhead contorted and weaved themselves in a bower, providing shelter from the sun. Maeve sat and beckoned Shona to join her. Still with doubt in her mind, Shona obeyed but did not sit too close to the other woman.
“Don’t be afraid,” Maeve told her, “I mean no harm.”
“But our packs are enemies.”
“Only among the more stupid of our young men.” Maeve picked a number of daisies and began to fashion them into something. “I am certain that our elders would live in harmony, friendship even, if they could but disregard the prejudices of yesteryear.”
While Maeve talked, Shona had been looking around the glade and was taken aback by a strange sight. Around the edge of the glade lay and sat an audience of the wild animals of the forest, rabbits, foxes, badgers, hares and others. Even squirrels had descended from their dreys in the upper branches and clung to the lower boles to watch the women. But why? Wild things were usually sensitive to the presence of ciaróea or even men and went into hiding at their approach. She touched Maeve’s arm gently and nodded towards the assembled creatures.
Maeve looked up from her task. “Didn’t I say?” she smiled, “This glade is enchanted, it is dedicated to the fae and I have been granted privilege to visit here. There are no hunters and hunted here, only beings that can meet without fear.” She finished what she was doing and held it up for Shona to see. She had fashioned a crown of the interwoven daisies.
She leaned forward and placed the flowers on Shona’s head. “There, now you are no longer just Shona of the forest pack, now you are Shona, lovely queen of the forest.” She took Shona’s hands in hers and regarded her solemnly. “Which would you choose, Shona, for us to be foes or for us to exchange the kiss of peace?”
“I… I… I think the kiss of peace…”
* * * * *
“…one day,” said Maeve, “you will mistake another for me, another who may be a rogue and neither recognise you for one of our kind nor care.”
Shona laughed. She had heard this warning from Maeve so often. “True love doesn’t blind me,” she replied, “it opens my eyes. And anyway, even though I have not yet gained full powers, I do have our high sense of smell. I could never mistake the scent of another for you. You followed me from the village and I tracked you all the way. It was only a case of when and where you would choose to show yourself.”
Maeve laughed too, a joyful sound in that autumn-bleak woodland. “My darling Shona is coming on.” Following that first encounter they had met as often as circumstances allowed. At first they came together as developing friends, exchanging the kiss of peace each time that they met, Shona quickly accepting that there was a better way to live than enmity. In time the kisses became more passionate than the traditional and slowly the two fell deeply in love although neither admitted it for some time.
The day came when they could no longer contain the ache, when their emotional love spilled over into a more intimate and physical one. They had gone, as usual, to the glade of the fae and knelt to face each other. Maeve held out her hands and Shona took them in hers. “Is breá liom tú…I love you,” said Maeve, “I love you and want you.”