He prowled the keep like a wild thing. Oh, he knew that deep down he was not
merely an animal of flesh and blood, fur and fangs. He kept his humanity and
his intellect even as he wore the form of another. And yet it was not quite
‘another’, so natural did it feel… the shedding of weak human flesh to walk
as something more glorious, more amazing than any non-Cheysuli would ever
Lir, you forget yourself, came a familiar voice. The balance, you must
always remember the balance.
Ah yes, the balance. The equilibrium between man and beast that was so
important that it was drilled into every Cheysuli boy-child from the moment
he was old enough to know what Lir-gift was. Too far over into the dark
abyss and you would be gone, lost forever to the mind-breaking savageness
that only a man-beast could assume. He must always remember his humanity, no
matter what the circumstances, or he would be lost and shunned, effectively
dead and disgraced in his family’s eyes.
And you’ve worked so hard for their regard. It would not do to disappoint
No, it would not. His uncle, the clan-leader, who already took him into his
confidence over many important matters, though he was only a young man of
23. He could not let him down. He had to uphold the honor of his family, of
the Cheysuli people. Gods knew that it grew harder each passing day to
struggle against the oppression, the hatred that burned deep in the breasts
of the Homanan people and drove them to do wicked, evil things. There were
some who felt anger or hatred towards those who would exterminate them, but
he only felt pity. They strove to annihilate what they did not understand,
and never would.
Your cousin would say you are being a pig-headed man, the voice said wryly.
She would say that you oppress women even as the Homanans oppress us.
Yes, but my cousin is a woman herself, and prone to flights of fancy. Even
she, Cheysuli though she may be, cannot understand what it is to possess the
Lir-bond, to shed your skin for something deeper, something older than even
our people. She has not come to accept her place, but she will in time.
Hopefully sooner than later. We have no time nor patience for the daydreams
of a girl. This is a time that we men must defend what is ours.
And we Lir must go beside you, to wherever your headstrong fancies lead you.
The gods surely were laughing when they bound us to you.
And us to you, do not forget. The same fate awaits me should you meet injury
or death. We are together in this, closer than kinmen. And I would do
nothing to risk that bond, not even if it meant the freedom of all our
Be careful what you say, Lir. The gods may choose to test your words in ways
you do not understand.
Then I shall be ready for the test, he thought, feeling the ground smooth
beneath the pads of his feet. Muscles flexed as he strode faster, his
sensitive nose picking up the smells of smoke and wood, fire and food that
spoke of mealtime fast approaching. And, sniffing, he could smell beneath
that the scent of his clan, the people that populated the keep and made it
home. Leathers and furs clothed them, honor and determination drove them
forward, kept them fighting against all odds. They were magnificent, his
people and their companion animals, linked closer than man and nature would
ever be again.
Your uncle is looking for you, the dark wolf by his side said, matching each
long stride with his own. There is a council matter he wishes to discuss.
Then let us go to him, Lir, and we will hear what he has to say. As easily
as he had assumed the shape, he released it, the magic welling up from the
ground to accept the wolf-form and giving him back his own. He walked the
earth as a man now, tall and proud, Lir by his side. Cheysuli gold glittered
on his arms, the only ornamentation on his warrior’s body, save the
wolf-shaped earring that dangled from his ear. He was Declan, son of Lucan,
nephew to the clan-leader and one of the finest warriors in the keep. And
with the wolf by his side, he was a blessed Cheysuli, child of the gods and
protector of the prophecy. Nothing could change that, nothing could alter
his fate, his tahlmorra. He would protect and serve as best he could, and
that was all he could do.
That and perhaps learn to lighten up a little, the wolf thought with a
chuckle. But one thing at a time.
A restless figure with short raven hair walked aimlessly around the keep,
seemingly without a care at first glance. It was not until one got closer one
would see the figure actually was a somewhat slim and young cheysuli woman,
whose eyes seemed to radiate anything but calmness and seemed to be waiting
for something. Sure enough, the brown eyes sparkled and suddenly one
saw the aimless strutting turn into restless striding one, the second she
caught a glimpse of the two dark wolves approaching the keep from afar.
"Declan and his precious Lir", she muttered in her head and turned towards
the two of them, as Declan turned back into human flesh. That caused a sting
of jealousy in her heart as well, this was simply not fair. She was simply a
plain dull human, just because she had been born as a female.
She thought back of the very time she had realized, that because she was a
female she would not be gifted with a Lir as all if not most Cheysuli males
were. And the second that knowledge had struck her, she had started
screaming and after also trying to hit her father since he was the closest
cursed man around, she had run off into the woods crying.. out of anger. Her
father Tam had simply sighed, and had waited a day before actually starting
a search party after her, he knew his daughter could take care of herself, but
also of what her temper could be like as well.
He of all people had not expected to find a sobbing girl, and indeed, they
found a grimlooking girl who stared at the Lir and the men as if they had been
mortal enemies there to capture her and torment her for all eternity. In the end
at least his Lir and him had managed to approach the girl without her trying to
strike them. Serla, Tam's wolf Lir who was the closest thing Saira had to a
mother since she had died some years after Siara was born had spoken, to
the girl through Tam. She had explained this was just how things were and
that she either could follow them back to the keep, or stay where she she
was for the rest of her life, moping. So the 5 year old Saira had after some
minutes of silent ponderation stood up, lifted her chin high and marched back
to the keep and wouldn't say much to anyone for some days.
Saira froze as she saw Serla looking sternly at her, from the nearby
entrance to the tent of the Shar Tahl. The wolf somehow always knew when
she was about to mutter curses over other Lir, then again they no doubt
rather wanted Serla to get Saira's attention than remain stared upon. Never
had Saira attacked a Lir, but she had many times got into fights with those of
her own kin. Especially Linn a young and stuck-up brat who was the
daughter of Lachtna who always seemed intent of showing Tam what Linn
was better at than Saira. Not to mention Linn's father, Torin who always
wanted to tell Saira that training with the men was not fit for a woman,
despite the times, that Saira would be of more use raising more strong
It seems Tam never would understand the looks Lachtna and Torin eyed him
with, despite their comments behind his back about how the clan should be
ruled. Saira sighed and wonder if her father ever would understand that they
were in fact conspiring whenever they could to point out things they knew
how to improve, especially with Tam and his "wild daughter that did not know
her place", unlike "sweet" Linn who was so perfect in all ways. Hah, if Linn
was perfect then Saira would be one of the Gods herself, knowing just about
every mischievous and deceitful look that Linn would mirror in that innocent
seeming face of hers, after either things she had done or was planning to put
in motion. Saira had attested her own stubbornness, but she was in no way
gullible like the males seemed to be when Linn fluttered her eyelashes and
pretended she needed help to lift this or move that or had no clue in general
over things. Saira would seldom require help anyhow, let alone ask for such.
She may be a woman, but in no way did this make her some kind of decorative
cattle. turned her look away from Serla, and started staring at Declan who was
just a few steps away from her now. He smiled wryly when he met her eyes,
and greeted her ever so teasingly.
"Saira, you're up early too, I see". Saira crossed her arms over her chest
and smiled back sweetly. So, little Declan has business with the Shar Tahl
now? she mocked him slightly and continued with an overly dramatic tone of
concern and gasped: "Are things not going well with you and your Lir?"
Almost immediately came the reply and the returned smile from Declan. "What
about your search for a Cheysul then, dear cousin? Have you not listened to
your father's pleas for more Cheysuli warriors?" He added a sad look on his
face, and added slowly.. "Then again, I can't see any sane Cheysuli Warrior
daring to even share the same tent with you during the day.."
Saira's eyes flashed with anger and she was just about to lash out her
closed fist from her chest, when Serla growled next to them and they saw
Tam looking sternly at them too, from the Shar Tahl tent..
All seriousness resumed, Declan took a step back from his angry cousin, not
wanting to provoke the girl further. Her temper was well-known among the
clan, and though he enjoyed trading barbs with her, he had no desire to
press the issue with her father watching. Tam was already upset enough with
her headstrong ways, and he didn’t need to add to his uncle’s problems.
Turning, he placed one hand on Faol’s furry head. “Su’fali,” he said,
ruffling the wolf’s ears. The clan-leader gave them a stony look and turned,
disappearing back into the tent. Turning back to his cousin, he gave her a
look. “Violence doesn’t solve everything, Saira. All the fighting in the
world is not going to change the fact that you are a woman, so you might as
well accept it.” The girl whirled around in a flash of dark hair and flushed
cheeks, too angry to even spit out a response at him. She stalked away
through the circle of tents, leaving Declan alone.
Do not worry about her now… she will be fine, his Lir advised. Go to your
uncle, and perhaps later you can talk to Saira. Or, at the very least,
appease her with more weapons practice.
She doesn’t -need- more practice with the bow, Lir. She needs to learn to be
a proper woman, one that a warrior would be willing to take as a Cheysula.
If she continues on in this fashion it will only mean embarrassment for her
and her father.
I’m sure his dignity will recover, Lir, the wolf said humorously. And yours
Declan shook his head at this as he strode towards the Shar Tahl’s tent.
There were things even a Lir could not understand. Pushing aside the tent
flap, he stepped inside, yellow eyes adjusting to the darkness. His uncle
was there, along with the shar tahl, an old man with gray hair who
nonetheless had the stature of a warrior. “Ah, Declan,” he said in a raspy
voice. “Please, sit down.”
The young man seated himself on a bear pelt, the thick fur padding the
ground luxuriously. His uncle took a seat as well across from him, and
looking through the smoke of the small fire he could see the deep lines
etched across his face that bespoke the great responsibility on his
shoulders. A clan leader’s duty to his people was a life-long commitment,
and it was not made any easier by the difficulties that faced them at every
turn. Harsh weather, sickness, and the constant raids on their people by the
Homanans made staying alive a daily struggle. Composing himself, he sat
cross-legged and waited for one of the elders to speak.
As Saira fled away from the Shar Tahl’s tent, her mind raced. How dare he
speak to her like that? ‘You are a woman, so you might as well accept that.’
That dirty ku’reshtin! Thinking that just because he was a man, he had the
right to order her around.
She was walking so quickly, her thoughts so clouded with anger that she
nearly ran smack into the young man who hung upside down from a tree limb in
the middle of her path. “Watch where you’re going!” he crowed as she skidded
to a stop in front of him. His upside down gaze was bright and quizzical,
yellow eyes glinting through the shadows of the trees. With a quick, fluid
motion he bent upwards, drawing his knees over the tree branch and dropping
into a neat crouch on the ground below.
With a flourish, he turned to face her, wide grin spread over his face. “My,
my, Saira, you’re in quite the mood this morning,” he said good-naturedly.
“What did your jehan say to you to cause such a pretty face to brood so? Or
was it your cousin, my dearest friend, who is old beyond his years but lacks
the tact that even the simplest child possesses?” The warrior before her was
of a different sort than her cousin. Where her cousin was tall and broad,
this man was short and skinny, falling a few inches short of Saira’s
generous height. His hair did not lie smoothly on his head but danced around
as if invisible breezes played with it at that very moment. His smile was
quick, his eyes merry, and each movement he made was strange, jerky and
smooth at the same time.
His Lir, an impudent blue jay by the name of Malachi, darted around his
head, uttering raucous squawks that upset the peace and calm of the forest.
While most Lir seemed to be a good influence on their partners, guiding them
with wisdom and strength, the jay had gotten Devlin into more trouble than
he could find alone, and that was saying much. Jovial and irreverent, he
seldom took seriously what he could take as a joke. He made for a strange,
but true friend to the more staid and serious Declan, who rarely appreciated
his friend’s impertinent nature. All the same, being only two years apart in
a clan with few children meant that they were fast friends, and they could
most often be found near each other, sometimes Devlin’s bright blue bird
form perched atop the silvery Declan.
He had also formed a friendship to the impetuous Saira, his optimism and
good cheer sometimes the only things that could succeed in lifting her from
her dark moods. He stood before her now, head cocked, smile wide. “Well,
meijhana? Are you going to tell me what it is, or will I have to tickle it
out of you?
The Shar Tahl cautiously glanced at Tam, and Tam glanced back at him.
And it was Tam who first spoke among the three of them. "Rorrh and I
have been discussing matters regarding the future of the clan. In this
future you have a definate place, quite likely as the clanleader.. and I'm not
just saying this as a favourizing uncle but the clanleader that looks out for
the best of the clan, and the Gods know you haven't had it easy with Saira
as a cousin either. Tam burst out in a wide grin and chuckled slightly as he
eyed the young warrior across the other side of the dancing flames.
Declan looked down in the dancing flames before him and nodded in reply.
"You have treated me as any of the other warriors, and I would not have it
any other way either".
Tam broke off his grin and got a more serious look over his face and eyed
Declan again. He spoke slowly with a distant look on his face: "We have
received news from one of the nearby clans, there's been attacks and things
are very unclear regarding details, I'm afraid. However this is another
thing we must face as a clan, knowing every attack may claim warriors
from our ranks, be they from another clan or our own. It is the way of the
warrior though, life and death. His word ebbed out into a silence in the tent,
yet in Declan's mind the word "death" echoed still, causing visions of his
mother. A vision that was so vague now since it had been many years
ago she had died, after an attack on their current clankeep. Her sobbing
could still awaken him from the few nightmares he did have after all these
years. It felt like a cold most was suddenly surrounding him, causing him to
feel like he was drowning in old memories.. old memories of what had come in
death's wake, he could almost taste the metallic taste of blood in his mouth and
felt how he suddenly was choking.
"Declan?" Tam looked sternly at the young man, with a worried look in his
eyes. I didn't mean to remind you of.. of what happened to Nuala, she
wasn't only your mother, she was my sister as well. Tam shook his head
almost as if to rid himself of memories himself.
Declan swallowed, finally rid of the choking sensation he just had
experienced and tried fixating his gaze at his uncle. "I know it wasn't your
intention, but yes.. it brought back.. unpleasant memories." He grimased
and found Faol had snuck up by his side, and Declan placed a hand on the
wolf's titled head, sensing his concern even without their telepathic link just
by looking into his glimmering yellow eyes.
"So what do you have in mind to minimize the risk of an attack?" Declan
looked at Tam and Rorrh. Declan continued with: "Something tells me Torin
would be happy to tell of his opinion in the matter", and grimased a bit of
“No doubt he would,” Rorrh said, nodding sagely. “And we shall consider the
counsel of all our warriors before any decision is made. However, I think it
may be wise to consider moving the clan into deeper territory, somewhere
where it would be harder for the Homanans to penetrate.”
“Yes, but if we do that, we will also be cut off from our fellow clans…
giving or receiving aid would be made that much more difficult,” Declan
pointed out, frowning.
“This is true, but it may be a risk we have to take,” the shar tahl replied.
“We cannot allow the Homanans to find us, and if we must hide, then so be
it.” Declan frowned. He could see the wisdom in the older man’s words, but
it still felt wrong, running away and hiding. The Cheysuli were a proud race
of people; they had no need of tactics like that. At least, they didn’t when
times were good. Now that the genocide raged, however… he supposed Rorrh was
right. They couldn’t allow themselves to be found. No matter how hard they
fought back, they would lose people in the raids, and that they could not
afford. Not even one life could be spared in the desperate struggle.
He looked up again, preparing to voice his agreement with the idea, when
suddenly a noise stopped him. The three men were instantly alert as the
crack of a branch reached their ears, as were the two wolves and the sleek
mountain cat named Sheeva that was the shar tahl’s Lir. Then a scream split
the air and their frozen nature was no more. The men darted from the tent
into the open, already reaching for the bows and arrows they kept close at
hand. A horrific sight met their eyes… Wave after wave of Homanan soldiers
advanced on their Keep, each holding a long sword and shield that glistened
in the morning sun. Archer set further back in the woods aimed fiery arrows
at the tents, and already the sickening smell of burning leather filled the
air, the smoke thick and dark. Soldiers on horseback rode in back of the
infantry, shouting orders. “Kill ‘em all! Don’t leave anyone alive! Show no
Gods, Lir, we are too late, Declan thought even as he twisted behind a tree.
They are upon us! He reached behind to his quiver and plucked out an arrow,
stringing it quickly into the compact Cheysuli warbow he carried. Dodging
out from the shelter of the trunk, he let loose a barrage of arrows into the
advancing soldiers, causing several of them to stagger and fall. The rain of
fiery arrows continued to fall down as the screams intensified.
A wave of animals, Chesuli and Lir alike flowed out from the circle of
tents, intent on stopping the encroaching enemy. A hawk screamed as it dove
towards a man on horseback, and the noise was soon echoed as the soldier’s
eyes were attacked with cruel talons. Faol was a snarling, swirling mass of
fur and fangs as he drove through the line of soldiers. Weaving and
twisting, he avoided their swords as he slashed at calves and unprotected
sides. One man dropped to his knees and his cries silenced in a low gurgle
as his throat was ripped out. Declan had no time to spare to worry about his
Lir, but apprehension lurked at the back of his mind. He had been through
raids before and lost those dear to him… mother, friend, neighbor… yet never
was he more afraid than for his Lir. For if the wolf was to be injured or
die, his fate was also sealed. Pushing away the worry, he continued to
steadily fire arrows in a careful, precise fashion, each hitting its target
Saira resisted the urge to wrestle the the human jaybird to the ground, as
he stod there grinning widely with a devlish grin on his face, much like
Malachi did just before getting another swift impulse of doubtful actions
with mayhem to follow, or simply to annoy people or other Lir in the
surrounding. His mother knew him well, as she had named him Devlin, as
he sure was a devlish one.. and this thought actually made Saira form a
smile on her lips and reply: "Oh, maybe I just feel like trying to scare you
down trees today. You know, the ridiculous fact of making a *bird* fall
down a tree". She titled her head nonchalantly whilst putting her hands
on her hips as she said this, and tried reading out a reply from Devlin's
face, but he seemed to grin even more and just laughed and started
running from the keep. "You better catch this bird first and then throw him
down a tree then!" A dark shadow from afar above the treetops also
followed his path, as did Saira already was in pursuit of Devlin. He may
be fast she thought to herself, but I know these woods better than him,
plus Malachi might actually be helping me more than he thinks.
Saira ran through the trees, legs pumping, heart pounding. This was more
like it. No ‘womanly’ stuff like tending the fire, making clothes, no… this
was fun. She grinned as she darted around a tree, eyes drifting upward to
find the form of Malachi, who was like a blue blur in the branches. The jay
took a sharp bank to the left and Saira followed, skidding to a stop as she
realized that the noise of Devlin’s running steps had stopped. She cocked
her head, listening with keen ears for any sign of the young man. Her
breathing slowed almost immediately, fit lungs returning to normal as her
heartbeat slowed. Where had he gotten to?
Overhead, two jay birds turned a mischievous eye on the girl below. Malachi
cackled. She will be angry to know you cheated, Lir.
Yes, and even angrier when she learned it was all your idea! Devlin replied.
Besides, she can never stay angry at me for long. With that, he hopped off
the branch and floated towards the ground, assuming human form and landing
with perfect balance among the trees. Apparently this was something he had
practiced quite extensively.
Saira whirled around as a twig snapped behind her and was greeted by Devlin,
grinning as always. “I only jested earlier, meijhana,” he said slyly. “You
do not need to throw me from the tree, only give me your sweet smile and I
would gladly fall for you.” He didn’t get quite the response he expected, or
maybe he did, as the girl sprang on him, sending them both falling to the
ground. “You took Lir-shape!” she said angrily, raising her fist above her
head. “You cheated, and just like the rest of them too!”
He rolled out of the way just in time as the fist came smashing down in the
place where his eye would have been. Laughing, he used the momentum and her
momentary off-balance to topple her over, ending up on top of her. Grinning
as he straddled her, he did his best not to fall over as the girl fought
back. She outweighed him, and carried nearly as much muscle as he did, so
the match was even. His chuckles mixed with her growls as they tussled,
rolling over and over in the dry leaves of the forest floor. Soon her anger
spent itself and they were wrestling only in play.
Devlin reached over to pin her arms above her head and then froze, yellow
eyes wide. Saira took this opportunity to pin him instead, but she soon
stopped and looked down at her friend. “The… The Keep. It’s under attack!
"We…we have to get back!” he said, scrambling up.
“What? No… it is?” she said, unbelieving. Malachi darted about their heads,
chattering loudly. “Saira, stay here, it’s safer,” the young man said,
giving her a desperate glance. She stared after him, too astonished to say
even a word as he leapt away, blurring into Lir-form and diving through the
trees. He was gone before she could blink. Was it true? Was their home truly
in danger? If so, she couldn’t just stay here. She was as good as any of the
other men, and now was her chance to show them. Determinedly, she began to
run towards the Keep, but her steps slowed as a peculiar pain struck her in
the stomach. She doubled over, staggering to a stop. She couldn’t draw a
deep breath, so intense was the pain. What was happening to her? She had to
get back and help her people… but she couldn’t move!
* * *