Ronan stalked through the streets of Dublin, drifting in and out of the grounds that made up the campus of Trinity College Dublin as he went. Rain, heavy and relentless, drenched the city, and like an absolute leathcheann he’d neglected to remember to take an umbrella with him when he’d left the student accommodations that morning. As a result, rain poured down onto his head, down his neck and into the lining of his coat – though it hadn’t yet managed to get through his thick wool jumper. It was early evening now, and while most of his year mates were likely already hitting the pubs, or had already been for an hour, Ronan was just leaving the university and his carefully secluded study space in the Ussher Library. He almost wished that he’d stayed indoors, the weather was cold, miserable, and all he wanted at this point was to be dry. He could have used a wizardry to keep the wet off him, but this was Dublin, and he wasn’t going to risk the chance that his spell would harm something in the old, layered wizardries around him – they glinted at the corner of his eyes just about everywhere he looked.
Plus, he was exhausted, and doing a wizardry, even a simple one while not at his full faculties would be inviting mistakes. He’d worked diabhal hard to get into the best university in Ireland, and no matter how much he wanted to just throw up his hands and go for a pint, he was this close to finals and the due dates of two projects to let his marks slip now. Ancient Irish history and literature didn’t study itself, and he desperately wanted the 2:1 that would give him the best chance to enter a Ph.D. program in the subject. If he was at the same time doing a research project into ancient Gaelic wizardries by using source material he could only get his hands on at Trinity – well, his non-Wizard professors didn’t have to know.
He could use a drink, and the chance to see the friends he’d made at university so far, but the last week had left him almost too drained to even think about it. For his sins and for his coursework, Ronan had been assigned a project to research the potential historical basis for the (not actually so fictional, but then every story was based in some form of truth) Second Battle of Moytura. It was almost a laughable bit of irony, but Ronan swallowed at the thought of it as he walked, head down. Somehow, despite everything he did to stop thinking about it, his mind went back to the Battle. Not the original, the battle that had absolutely happened, even if his professors didn’t realize it. No, the reenactment. The one he’d been a part of – played a major part in even.
The neon glow of a restaurant sign temporarily blinded him when he turned the corner onto a more populated street and – maybe because he’d been thinking about it – for a moment he was back on the Plains of Tethra, the Spear in his hand raised and practically jumping out of his palm, the golden coil of the Champion in his mind unfurling, willing, waiting. The great eye of Balor opening slowly, so slowly, the pain of its gaze steadily increasing and –
Ronan shook his head almost violently, coming back to himself, jerking the memories of the past away. He’d stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, breath coming in heavy pants and, he realized, his fists were clenched so tightly that they were almost painful. He swore and stepped out of the way of passers-by, and took a moment to get his breathing back under control. He hoped that anyone who’d observed him – even a passing glance – thought that he’d just been fed up with the rain and was trying to get it out of his eyes. He managed, after a moment, to unclench his fists.
Irish wizards – even blow-ins – sometimes mentioned what had happened. His role in the whole affair was in the focáil Manual for Powers’ sake. He was proud of his involvement, sort of. He’d helped set things to rights, but it wasn’t something he was all that keen to talk about. Not really. Most people had learned eventually not to try and bring it up, and he was grateful for the fact. The whole thing had been both real and surreal - him and the Spirit of Fire in his hands, the dormant and present Champion in his head, in his blood. No one – probably at the request of Johnny, his Senior, had to talk about the way the Battle and all that had come with it had affected him after the fact, with the exception of Nita Callahan and Kit Rodriguez. He’d pretended to be at peace with it at the time, even just to fool himself, and it had mostly worked – for a while at least. He’d somehow managed to convince everyone that he was fine. Jury was still out if he actually was. The Battle itself still gave him nightmares. So, while it was probably something to be proud of - his participation, his being in the place of Lugh at the climax of the chaos, being the chosen owner of the Spear of Destiny, a larger part of Ronan wanted to just move on.
Not even Johnny had really asked him about the flicker of Power that he could still feel, now and then, from somewhere in his mind. Maybe the Senior hadn’t wanted to discuss something so personal. The Champion – or whatever aspect of the Champion that Ronan carried within him - was still there, as he had been before and after Balor’s defeat, but more awake than it had been in the years preceding the reenactment. Like an itch Ronan couldn’t fully scratch, or commune with. Not that he necessarily wanted to, as he’d been told by Kit Rodriguez after the battle had been won ‘if you’re lucky, you’ll never hear from Him again’.
At the same time, part of Ronan – the part that had always grappled with the Power in his blood (who had maybe even been his ancestor) – almost wanted to.
He really needed a drink. And maybe a good night’s sleep, if this was where his mind was going. Baiting a Power for no good reason was borrowing trouble he didn’t need.
Ronan started walking again, not as fast this time, trying to let the bustle of the city draw the tension out of his shoulders and his limbs. So, when the golden coil of the Champion in his mind twitched slightly as if in answer to Ronan’s unwitting call, Ronan was relaxed enough to nearly trip off of a curb in shock. He was too startled to even swear.
A pub that he hadn’t noticed before was a few shops away. The sign over the door read ‘The Samildánach’. Ronan took in a shuddering breath, and mindful of the call of the Power in his head, went to get out of the rain.
The inside of the pub was bright, and warm compared to the downright horrible weather outside. The din was incredible as well, this hour of the night the whole place was packed. Ronan shook out his coat, tried to smooth down his hair and looked around – and checked his mental Manual to see if he’d somehow been put on Active assignment. He hadn’t.
Which meant the call, whatever was going on, was either good or bad. He hoped good.
Not knowing what he was looking for, Ronan decided to move towards the bar. Awkwardly, he ordered a drink. Only when the barkeep brought back his cider, he brought Ronan two. “For your cara.” The barkeep grinned. “Been here an age and drinks like an iasc.” He winked at the extremely bewildered Ronan, and went to go serve someone else who shouted for service.
Ronan, stunned, stared at the ciders, and then picked them up. He turned around, scanning the bar for – something? Someone?
The crowd in the pub seemed to part of its own accord. At a table in the back, a somehow ethereal looking man sat – curly blonde hair framing a handsome face, dark eyes, wearing a green jumper – and looked straight at Ronan, and smiled at him.
Ronan’s heart seized, or felt like it was. There was no way that this was happening, absolutely no way.
In response, the figure of Lugh – the Champion - only grinned wider at him, crow’s feet at the edge of His burnished face crinkling with mirth.
Yeah, okay. This was happening.
Ronan gulped and approached the table. When he was a few steps away, he bowed slightly. “Elder brother, ancestor (foc he hoped that was something he was allowed to throw in), in the One’s name, honor and greeting.” He said in the Speech.
“Bualite go maith.” The Champion grinned. “Well met, Cousin.”
The part of Ronan that had finally let the Champion in during the Battle wanted to both scream in glee and run screaming for the hills. He had so many questions, so many things he wanted to say, but all of those thoughts had vanished as if they never were.
The Champion took one of the ciders out of Ronan’s hands and gestured to the seat opposite Him. Ronan sat, and only just remembered that it was raining outside when he went to take off his jacket and found it mysteriously bone dry. His gaze shot to the Power, who only took a drink in response, but his eyes were sparkling.
Unprepared for this, and absolutely unprepared for a Power that Be that had an actual sense of humor – there was literally no protocol in the Manual for this, at all – Ronan gulped. “Thank you.”
“Think nothing of it.” The Champion said. “Have a drink.” He was still smiling. It was mildly off-putting.
Ronan obeyed, of course, and then coughed. “That’s not cider.” What he’d been extremely certain was cider, tasted of honey and spices that he couldn’t identify. Maybe a floral taste?
“Mead.” The Champion told him, ‘sometimes the old ways are the best. Not always.” He looked as if he was fondly thinking of something. “But some things leave fond memories, and they never leave us.”
“Like Éire.” Ronan said, risking another sip. “Like the Faery going sideways.” Foc, why couldn’t he say anything intelligent?
“Aye.” The Champion agreed. “We never really leave it.”
“And end up leaving something of yourself behind.” Ronan said, the words slipping off of his tongue unbidden. He didn’t really know what else to say. He thought of Biddy, dying – as much as the Powers could – after re-forging the Spear. He thought of the implication that had come about, that at some point Lugh had lived as close to human as he could, like Biddy, and had helped sire children.
The Champion looked wistful at this, and caught Ronan’s eyes – almost fondly He said. “Aye garpháiste, sometimes we do.”
Well that… that was more confirmation than Ronan was expecting. If he ever told Johnny, the man would have kittens. He took a very deep sip of the mead.
“Why me?” He asked eventually, his hand clenching reflexively. “Why – why did it have to be me against Balor?
The Champion leaned back in His seat. “It was not calculated, it was not the intent to cause you distress. I couldn’t be there myself Ronan.” He looked serious, and Ronan could see the ancient warrior that Lugh must have been in the Champion’s gaze. “Not the way that I am, not at my full self as I was during the original Battles of Moytura. Balor, the part of my solitary brother that was Balor, would have known. I could not be there when my brother pit his rage against the green land we love once more, but the Universe finds a way. Wizardry finds a way.” The Champion smiled. “And you, child of my blood, were there to hold the Spear, to do the deed when I could not.”
There were aspects of the Powers everywhere, all across the universe. All across Timeheart. And one aspect of the Power before him had been in Ronan, dormant, waiting for the time when, in peril, the Power would be needed. Maybe it hadn’t been calculated, but…
“Will it happen again?” Ronan asked with a rasp. “Will I have to do it again?” He hoped not. For his sanity, he hoped not.
“Likely not.” The Champion reassured him. “Though nothing is certain. Nothing ever is.” The words He spoke rung true, and because He said it in the Speech, it had to be.
It shouldn’t have been a comfort, and in a way it wasn’t. But while Ronan may never need to face Balor again, what if he ever had children at they chose to take the Oath? What if they had to wield the Spear? The idea was daunting.
But if Ronan himself ever had to wield the Spear again, he knew that he could. Whatever part of his blood had accepted the Champion, when he had accepted the Power, was unafraid of the task.
The Champion nodded at him, and raised Its glass. “To Éire. And your studies.”
That, Ronan could drink to. “To Éire. And to its history.”
They both drank. Ronan noticed that, oddly, the jumper that the Champion wore had a silver sigil on it in the shape of a parrot*, placed right above where the Power’s heart probably was.
“Where is the Spear?” The Champion asked curiously, distracting Ronan from the sigil. “I know that carrying such a weapon would not be… seemly in this age.”
“In my room at Uni.” Ronan admitted. “I tried to leave it at home, didn’t think it was right to bring it with me, but… It followed me. It just… appeared one morning at the foot of my bed.”
The Champion laughed, and it was a wholly melodic sound. “It would do! The Spirit within it does not take inaction lightly.” He sobered slightly. “It will follow you for the rest of your life, young laoch.” The Champion said sternly. “It chose you, it recognized you as mine, and it is a burden you should always be ready to bear.” He said, “as my own soldiers would have.”
“I will.” Ronan agreed solemnly. What else could he say? The Spear had felt right in his hands the moment he’d held it for the first time. He was as much the Spear’s as it was his.
The Champion put down his glass and held Ronan’s gaze. Suddenly it seemed like the pub, the noise of its patrons, the clink of glasses, the smell of alcohol, were gone. It was just himself, and the Champion.
“You will protect Éire,” the Champion intoned, and to Ronan it felt like the Oath, but different. In the Speech, it was an oath, prophecy, and orders all in one. “Through word, heart, and limb.” The words wrapped around Ronan’s heart, his soul. “And by the Art by which you swore.”
“In Life’s name and for Life’s sake.” Ronan breathed in the Speech. And with those words, it was true. His mind was clear, and less troubled somehow. “Till’ Universe’s end.”
The Champion smiled. “An-mhaith.” The world was back again, the sound of the pub around them jarring.
They drank again in silence. Ronan, overwhelmed, the Champion keeping His own thoughts to Himself.
“Will you always be in my head?” Ronan finally asked. “Now that I’m… now that I accepted you, on the plains?”
“Do you wish me not to be?” The Champion responded mildly.
After a long, quiet moment, Ronan shook his head. “I think I’m used to it now.” He answered, surprised at himself. “I think it would be lonely in my head, after all this time.”
“Then like Ireland,” Lugh, The Champion said, raising His glass once more. “I will not leave you.”
Ronan blinked, and found that he was alone at the table, two empty glasses on the worn, wooden surface.
He wasn’t certain, but he felt rather than heard a warm laugh in his mind, and a whisper of parting, but not final, words.
Ronan went to bed that night, with the Spear of Destiny’s comfortable weight in his hand.