The Raven’s Test Chapter Two (draft 3)

So, yet again I have no time to actually write a blog post (sigh), but I have just about managed to finish draft three of chapter two.  I don’t know where my time goes.  It’s not even on running, because my so-called mild ankle strain is proving very recalcitrant and i’m only up to 3.5 miles …

So, here it is.  Chapter two

Louis looked up as the seagull called sharply from above the wave-ship.  The vessel emitted an aquamarine light, like the cleanest of oceans reflecting a blue sky.

The man at its silver prow stood proud and straight, his powerful bare torso rippling and surging in the glow.

“He won’t come without this,” screeched the bird, swooping slightly lower and flapping in an ungainly hover some feet to the side of the vessel.  “Here, catch.”  The bird opened her claw, and Louis inhaled sharply as his father’s watch plummeted towards the water.

“Li Ban,” called the man, pivoting and extending a muscular arm so that his hand was in just the right place to catch the watch.  He closed his fingers around it, and the arm retracted like a wave rebounding from a rock.  “How is your sister?” the man asked the gull. “I had hoped she would come.”

The seagull cackled disapprovingly.  “Be grateful we chose to help you at all, Manannán, after the way you behaved.”

Manannán turned as the bird flew back towards Louis, his long white hair whipping round and soaking Louis in an icy spray.

“Lugh seems unaware of his identity,” shouted the gull.  “He knows nothing.  Why you thought he was different this time is beyond us all.”

“He is strong enough this incarnation, I can feel it,” boomed Manannán, his voice indescribably powerful.  “And I thank you for bringing him to me, Li Ban.  Please give my love to Fand, and tell her that Niamh is well.”

The bird opened her beak and shrieked.  “My sister no longer uses the name Fand.  She chooses to be called Miranda, and I am Melissa, as you well know.  We have moved with the times, Manannán.”

The man on the ship flicked his hair back angrily. “New is not necessarily good, Li Ban,” he growled.  “New has brought nothing but death.  I cannot believe that you would embrace that.  I cannot believe that you welcome Balor’s destruction.”

“No,” snapped the gull.  “That is why we have chosen to help you.  Now, are you going to deal with the boy-God before he freezes? The body he is in is mortal, and he is turning blue.”

The man gazed down at Louis and held his father’s watch towards him.  “Well, Longhand,” he rumbled, slipping the watch into a bag that hung from his belt.  “Let us see if you are strong enough.”  He lifted a muscular arm and threw a golden rope towards Louis.  It arrowed its way through the wave and stopped in mid-air, an inch from Louis’ face.  The man grinned.  “If you want to get your father’s timepiece back, you will have to come with me.  The other option,” he called, turning and striding towards the ship’s stern, “is to stay there and die.  The choice is yours.”

“Ha-ha-ha,” called Melissa the gull, swooping down and hovering in front of Louis’ face.  “If you stay here, the humans will find your body in the morning.  They will think you drowned yourself because you are mad, so you might as well go.  Manannán is a fool, but going with him would be better than going back to the Nothingland.  Besides,” she added.  “What else do you have to lose.”

Louis looked down from the talking bird to the arrow. He must be mad, he thought, or still dreaming.  He imagined the freezing water slipping into his lungs; choking him.  He didn’t want to die like that, not even in a nightmare.  Slowly, he extended a hand and touched the rope-arrow.  It coiled obligingly into his palm.

“You’ll have to hold it, Longhand!” chortled Manannán.

Louis gripped the rope.

“Ready?”

The man hauled on the rope and Louis shot towards the ship before he had chance to answer. The wave that held the vessel loomed huge above his head, a wall of green-blue water frozen mid-surge.  Louis snatched a breath as it embraced him and glanced around wildly.  Water churned and bubbles flew in every direction.  He couldn’t tell which way was up.  It felt like his lungs were going to burst – he was going to drown! They’d lied to him – the seagull and the man.  No, he thought, there was no talking gull.  No man.  He was mad and now he was going to die.  How stupid.  His mouth opened involuntarily, and he thrashed as the liquid rushed down his airway, but it was pointless to fight it.  He stopped moving and let the sea fill him with a sense of, not peace exactly, but resignation.  It was inevitable.  Then everything went grey, and he was with his father.

 

***

They were in a small boat – no more than a dinghy really – rocking on the angry grey sea.  A huge oil tanker loomed over them.  On the deck stood a man Louis had never seen before, yet somehow, he seemed familiar.  He had short lank hair the colour of urine-soaked snow, and his eyes – his eyes were fish eyes.  Sea spray soaked the deck of the tanker and almost filled their dinghy.  Louis’ father wore bright yellow waterproofs to protect him – it was freezing – yet all the fish-eyed man wore was a shirt and a pink tie.  The spray seemed to skirt him, as though he had an invisible force field that repelled it.

He glared at Louis, and the boat pitched.

It felt as though a huge hand was moving the dinghy – tipping it then shaking it – it didn’t feel like waves.

Louis shouted to his father, but his dad didn’t seem able to hear him.  He launched himself next to his son as though Louis wasn’t there.

“Dad,” shouted Louis.  “Dad?” He reached out a hand to touch his father’s shoulder and felt nothing.  Thin air.  He looked at his hand in disbelief.  Suddenly there was a light … not sunlight, some other light that seemed to come up from the bottom of the sea.  Everything went still – the ocean, the tanker, the man on its deck – it was as though the world had been frozen.

His father turned to face Louis, leaving an image of him where it had been, a figure immobilised in time and space so that there were two dads!

“This is how it happened,” said Louis’ father. “This is how he tried to kill you, Louis.”  He turned his eyes upwards, and the man with the fish eyes turned his gaze to Louis as if someone had pressed play.  He raised a megaphone to his mouth.

“I see you,” he hissed through it.  “I see you Longhand.”

And Louis screamed.

***

Louis felt himself screaming silently as strong hands grasped him and pulled him out of the water.  His feet landed on something solid.  The world around him flashed and swirled with every colour he’d ever seen and more; it was vertiginous and sickening, as though he was being sucked down a kaleidoscope.  His stomach heaved.  “I can’t see,” he choked.

“You are fine, Longhand,” soothed a familiar man’s voice next to him.  “Sit down, you are fine.”

Louis lowered himself towards the ground.

“You are between worlds still,” the man continued.  “Dazed I believe you call it.  Do not worry the fog will soon clear.  You are on Wavesweeper – my ship.  Do you remember?”

Louis nodded.  “Yes, your boat was in a wave.  You pulled me towards it with a rope, but then I was in a dinghy … I was with my father and there was a tanker …”  He felt around him wildly.  The floor that he sat on didn’t feel like the metal of a tanker.  It felt like warm wood.  “Are you that creep from the tanker?” he asked fearfully, remembering the man’s fish eyes.

“No!” said the voice.  “What you saw was a vision.  A memory in your case.  The journey between worlds shows things.  Sometimes past things, sometimes future … you saw your past.”

Louis rubbed his eyes.  He could see vague shadows now – not shapes yet but it was better than it had been.  He peered in the direction of the voice and saw a rippling aquamarine light.  “Who are you?” he asked.

“Manannán Mac Lir,” replied the man.  “Lord of the sea.”  His light rippled, and he held a dark shape towards Louis.  “You are weakened, Longhand.  You need rest.  I will explain everything when we arrive, but now, please … drink this.”

Louis reached for the shape and grasped a small bottle.  “Arrive where?” he demanded.  “What do you mean you’re Lord of the Sea?”

“Please, drink it,” repeated Manannán.  “It will give you a dreamless sleep.  I promise to explain everything, but now you need to recover.”

And Louis couldn’t resist.  He raised the bottle to his lips and drank.

***

The sound of a waterfall seeped into Louis’ sleep, soothing him back to consciousness.  He opened his eyes and sat up with a groan.  He was in a glade, surrounded by blossoming cherry trees and ancient oaks.  Everything was bathed in a dawn-like glow.  He looked towards the sound of the waterfall – there it was, tumbling down some rocks to his left.  He rose, shakily, dislodging a heavy cloak that had covered him whilst he slept.  This must be the afterlife, he supposed, and it looked too nice to be hell.  His dad hadn’t believed in heaven and hell, but Louis hoped that this was heaven; that his dad would be here somewhere, waiting; smiling and laughing as always.

He walked to the waterfall groggily and peered over the edge of the rocks into a deep-looking pool.  It emptied into a gurgling brook which babbled away through the trees.  The pool was inviting – more than inviting – it drew him to it.

“Go ahead,” sang a voice behind him.

He whipped around and his jaw dropped – he couldn’t stop it – because if there were angels, she had to be one. She was much older than him – twenty maybe – and her perfect skin seemed to radiate the soft light that covered everything here.  She pushed a strand of golden hair back and smiled, offering him her hand.

“Good afternoon, I am Niamh.”

He grasped her slender fingers wordlessly, unable to shut his gaping mouth.

“My father- Manannán – came for you in Wavesweeper, his ship … do not worry if you cannot remember the confusion will pass.”

Louis stared at her beautiful face; her slender form wrapped in a dark green gown.  He looked into her hazel eyes.  “Is it the afternoon?” he stammered.  “It looks like morning.”

Niamh squeezed his hand kindly and glanced around the glade.  “It always looks like dawn here.  Never too bright or too dark, but I used to love the mortal world at noon.  The warmth of the sun on my skin.  I miss it greatly.”  She stopped and smiled at Louis sheepishly.

“Where am I?” asked Louis. “Am I dead? Is my father here?”

Niamh’s smile faltered.  “You are not dead, ” she assured him, “this is the Land of Dawn.  Emain ablach.”

Louis shrugged.  “Where? What’s the land of dawn? I thought that you only went to places like that when you died.”

“Your father told you nothing?”

Louis shook his head.  “He didn’t believe in heaven and hell.  Is this heaven? Is he here?”

Niamh smiled again, sadly.  “It is not as simple as that.  There is no heaven and hell … it is more like … our world and theirs.”

“Who are they?” Asked Louis.  “I don’t understand.  Did that man kill my father … the man from the tanker?”

Niamh stepped forward and embraced him tightly, her slender arms remarkably strong as she clasped him.  “The man in the tanker you mentioned?  My father said you saw him in a vision?”  She released Louis and gazed into his eyes.  “Can you tell me?”  she asked.  “Can you tell me what you saw?”

Louis felt a warmth wash over him.  Her hazel eyes were soothing; beautiful.  She was his angel and he couldn’t refuse her anything.  “I saw the man on the tanker shake my father’s boat,” he told her.  “Not physically.  It was like he did it with his mind from the deck.  Neither of them saw me until the end, and then …”

“Yes?”

“And then my father spoke to me.  He said, “This is how it happened Louis,” right before the sea saved him.”

Her hazel eyes gleamed with interest.  “How did the sea save your father?”

“A light from the depths protected him.  And that man.  The scary man on the tanker, he spoke to me too.”

She grasped his shoulders again.  “What did he say?”

“He said, ‘I see you Longhand.’.”  Louis looked into her eyes pleadingly.  “If I’m not dead, am I mad?”

“No,” Niamh whispered, leaning in and hugging him tight.  “You are not mad, Lugh of the Longhand.  I promise, but promises are of no use if you do not trust the oath giver.  Do you trust me?”

She spoke oddly, thought Louis, her tone somehow archaic despite her use of some modern words.  He nodded.

Then, please,” she soothed, gesturing to the pool behind him.  “You have had a difficult time and a strange night.  Manannán will explain when he returns, but the water in there will help you feel better.”  She reached down and pulled something from his hair.  “Also,” she giggled.  “You are covered in seaweed.  You need a bath.”  She stepped back and dropped a small piece of red weed with a grin.  “I will not watch but I will be close enough to hear if you call.”

Louis turned to look at the pool, his thoughts a jumble.  The water shimmered invitingly below.

“Go,” Niamh encouraged, and he felt compelled to climb down to it.

He eased his body down over weed covered rocks, perching on a boulder by the edge and yanking off a trainer.  He dipped a toe in the water – it was warm.

“You will have to take your clothes off.”

Louis swung round and looked up at Niamh’s amused face.  “I thought you said you’d go where you couldn’t see,” he spluttered.  “I thought you said I could trust you!”

Niamh laughed.  “No … I asked if you trusted me, I did not say you could, and anyway I have seen plenty of naked boys before.”

Louis blushed.

“I came back because I forgot to give you these.”  She threw down an old-fashioned-looking shirt, some knee-high boots and a pair of leather trousers.

He caught them and gazed up at her in disbelief.  “I’m not a Goth or a New Romantic you know.  Those fashions come from my dad’s era.”

She inspected him with a baffled frown.  “Funny trousers that come to your mid-calf are considered attractive these days?”

He glowered at her.  “I know they’re too small, but my dad bought them.”

Her face softened.  “I understand, Lugh. We will clean them and keep them somewhere safe.  But everyone around here wears clothes like those I gave you, not your strange fashion, so …Take your clothes off and bathe yourself.”

“You talk oddly.  And I am not taking my clothes off in front of a girl.”

Niamh smiled.  “Father warned me that your speech barely resembles our language.  Now I see what he meant, Lugh of the Longhand … Enjoy your bath.”

Her beautiful face disappeared over the rocks with a smirk.

“And my name is Louis Langford,” hollered Louis, but the only reply was her tinkling laughter.

 

 

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