MORRIGU, THE CROW
The wind is rustling in the trees and for a moment the air is full of tiny raindrops.
Ouch. Blood seeps from Georginas finger.
Ow. Something pushes against Sets injured foot. He opens his eyes. She has wet hair and is sucking her finger. She is younger than Set imagined, much younger and as she looks up her face freezes.
How did you ...? How did you get into my bed, Georgina wanted to ask, but she is sitting on damp forest ground. The boy facing her has a fringe of brown hair covering his forehead and ears, above that a blonde stripe and on top of his head some white tufts. Georgina dislikes dyed hair.
Who are you?
She has taken her finger from her mouth and Set sees the blood still dripping from it. It must be from her last victim.
I am - Mid-sentence, Set changes his mind.
Im not telling , he replies remembering a warrior who refused to give his name and therefore could not be killed.
Georgina licks the blood from her finger.
I got pricked by this thing, she explains pointing to the spiral pendant dangling from her neck. Set has recognised the spirals at once, they are the same as on his mothers ring.
I would tell you my name, if you tell me yours, Georgina offers. The boy bends his head a little, his face is wary and dirty. I know your name, Set replies, everybody knows your name. She is not what he imagined as the Goddess of death. Why did his mother tell him she was so terrible? You are Morrigu.
My name is Georgina not Morrikuh. The boy is not only dirty, he also seems quite daft.
Gu not kuh, Set corrects her.
At this moment, there is a sound of flapping wings. Set twitches. Georgina spots a crow hurling itself at her like a bird of prey.
Go away, she shouts and throws the stone she has suddenly in her hand at the bird. The crow staggers in the air, then it rallies and flutters away.
Puh, I thought I killed it. Georgina is relieved. She has no idea how the stone got into her hand. Did she pick it up without noticing?
I thought it would kill me, Set mutters.
The crow is called Morrigu? Georgina wonders.
No, but Morrigu is a crow, at times.
Set gives Georgina a closer look. She reminds him of somebody, but of whom? If she is not Morrrigu - Whats your name again?
Georgina. And yours?
Set hesitates. If she is not Morrigu he may as well disclose his name: Set.
Thats a strange name for a boy.
Actually Im called Setanta, but this is too long. So, everybody calls me Set.
I know the feeling, Georgina nods. My name is also too long. A sweet scent drifts towards Set.
And what do they call you?
Now Georgina hesitates: They call me George.
Its the scent of apples, Set is quite sure. She must be from Magnel, the world of the Gods, even if she is not Morrigu. His mother told him about the apple trees there, they blossom and carry fruit at the same time and their scent fills the air.
Thats a strange name for a Side, Set contemplates. He is surprised how intense the apple scent is.
A Side, someone from the other world.
Georgina looks around. Where are we? The rain is dropping from the branches. It is soft, not at all like at home, and large ferns grow around her, a holly tree -
Oh my God!
I mean - this is - There is forest everywhere. The poster.
What? Set inquires.
The island, Georgina replies.
Of course, we are on the island. Set confirms and Georgina swallows dryly. She must be in a fever, a dream.
And what are you doing here?, she inquires. Set explains that he stepped into a knife-like branch and that therefore he cant walk anymore, that in order to pass the test he has to stay on the island without arms and protection until the boat returns to pick him up. Georgina watches him while he is talking. His eyes are brown, honey coloured, with long dark lashes and where his face is not covered in dirt there are some freckles. She only understands part from what he is saying, but he does sound quite reasonable.
As soon Set has finished talking, Georgina bends over his injured foot and again Set can smell the apples. The injury is not particularly bad, just a hole with a black rim. But - Georgina stops. Its not possible. She counts again. Seven.
You have seven toes!
Of course. Do you have more? Set looks at her feet.
I have five like everybody.
Only five? And can you walk at all?
Georgina keeps staring at Sets feet. Set watches her closely. She has a small mouth and quite a big nose. She is hardly as beautiful as the Sides he has heard of but she is friendly and her coat is made of a furry material in a sunset colour.
Can you fly with it? Set asks tugging at the coat.
Sure, Georgina answers, still in awe, and you need a doctor.
Set looks at her with a blank face.
Someone who can treat your foot.
Yes, a healer.
There are no healers here, Set argues, there is nobody here. You know that.
Georgina tries to remember what else Set said.
And the boat?
It comes when it comes Set is getting impatient. In a few weeks, maybe in year. How wide were the circles in which the time was moving here?
Georgina tears herself from looking at the seven-toed foot and gets out of her bath robe.
Do you have scissors? She tries to remember how the doctor bandaged her foot, when she slipped from the pedal and cut the sole of her foot in the spokes of her bicycle. Set watches Georgina with interest. She wears mens cloths under her coat, covered with strange figures, mice with large ears, ducks in frocks and caps.
What are you looking at? Georgina asks noticing Sets interest. Had I known that I would end up here, I should have dressed. Here? Georgina thinks. The place feels real, not like a dream. How did she get here? Georgina pushes the thought aside and starts tearing the braids from her pyjama trousers.
You can get up now, Georgina announces.
Of course you can. You just have to try. Georgina had found a piece of bark slightly larger than Sets sole and tied it to his foot with the pyjama braids. It doesnt look bad, but Set makes no attempt of getting up. Come on. Georgina grabs Sets arm. But that is too much, Set struggles to his feet, and he really can get up. The pain ripples through his leg. He takes one step then another, it hurts but he can walk.
See. Georgina looks satisfied. And now we have to find a doctor - a healer.
Im telling you we are alone. He gets his leather vest from under the holly tree. On its back is a round wet mark but he puts it on anyhow.
If you dont disinfect the wound there will be an inflammation and one can die of that, Georgina explains. Ill die anyhow without water, Set replies and looks up at the sky. The rain has stopped.
We have to find a spring, he says, thats the most important thing.
The water runs between ferns and under bushes. Set und Georgina follow it as far as they can, walking around the shrubs until they find the streamlet again at the other side. Sometimes its very thin and once they think they lost it.
Maybe the water doesnt run to the shore but oozes away here, Georgina suggests having searched for a while. Set doesnt reply, he kneels on the forest ground and feels it with his hands.
If I hadnt this stupid bandage I could feel the water with my soles. But with one foot only ...
Without the bandage you couldnt even walk, Georgina remarks and starts feeling for the water too. But everything is equally wet to her, the ground, the leaves, her hands. The warm dampness sticks to her cheeks and from time to time drops are running over her temples. Maybe she does have a fever? Maybe thats the explanation.
Here. Set presses on a spot and water seeps through his fingers. Here runs the river.
Georgina looks doubtful, but as they advance in the direction pointed out by Set, she can see the water again. It flows into a small pond surrounded by moss-covered rocks. Georgina washes her hands and face in it, but it doesnt cool.
Are you warm too?
Yes. But Set is not listening, he glances at the shrubs.
It wasnt quite so warm yesterday.
What? Georgina whispers.
He must to be very close.
Cant you hear it? Georgina puts her hands behind her ears.
Not with your ears. Here! Set points at a spot above his stomach. Georgina examines him but he is all serious and then she hears it too. She feels it, a pounding like a drum on the soft spot below her ribs indicated by Set. Once, twice, it sounds like steps.
What is it?
A druh, a dog.
Not so loud.
Georgina cannot imagine a dog making such noises, an elephant maybe, a mammoth. There were also drawings of animals in her history book, shaggy brown beasts with horns and humps.
There. Set points to a shrub with shaking branches.
Come, he whispers and pulls Georgina behind the moss-covered rocks.
Maybe he hasnt got our scent yet.
Georgina crouches beside Set while keeping the shaking branches in her view.
Its better not to see him Set says and turns his back to the rock.
Why? Georgina doesnt loose sight of the shrub.
It`s bad luck. But Georgina doesnt listen. A round black nose appears in the branches, black eyes and pointed ears from which white tufts of fur protrude.
The head, Georgina whispers.
Duck! Set commands.
A furry paw hits the forest ground in front of the bushes.
Then, the second one appears. Pounding, the animal plods from the shrubs. His coat is white but shaggy like the animal in the history book and between his shoulders there really is a little hump. The druh is large for a dog but smaller than Georgina expected, about the same as the spectacled bear in the zoo, and his long tail dangles in the air. At the pond the animal stops and his black nose curls. A cloud of sparkling spots rises from his nostrils like a swarm of midges.
Does he sniff with these- ?
Duck! Set commands again and his voice is so angry that Georgina withdraws her head for a moment. But then she has to look again. The druh has dipped his snout into the pond and laps. It sounds like sucking with a straw from an empty glass.
He is drinking.
Set remains silent. There, the druh raises his head and his nose curls again.
I think he has discovered us, Georgina reports.
Set moans. The druh pulls his ears back and retracts his head. One paw trembles a little but he doesnt stir. This posture reminds Georgina of something.
Will he attack us? she asks whispering. But then she remembers: Its exactly the way Tara, her guinea pig, looks when it hears an unknown sound or when a shadow crosses her cage.
He is afraid. Georgina gets up.
Are you deserted by all Gods of Dana? Set hisses but Georgina has already left the cover of the rocks and clicks with her tongue as if the druh was a cat.
Dont be afraid, she says in a quiet voice and takes a step towards the animal. The dog pulls his ears even tighter to his head and another silvery swarm of sparkling spots emerges from his nose.
I wont harm you, Georgina reassures him and walks on. Some of the spots circle around Georginas head and she realises they are small stars.
Really. The stars fly back to the druh and he sniffs them in. A deep grunt resounds. Georgina is only an arms length away from the dog. His snout opens and she sees a row of sharp teeth. Is she mistaken? Her mouth is suddenly all dry. Will the animal pounce? A druh is no guinea pig. But then a long pink tongue slides from the snout and licks over the black nose. The druh has raised his ears again and his shaggy tail moves: its wagging.
Hello, tiny. Georgina smiles and stretches her hand out. The druh takes a pounding step towards her and a new swarm of stars dust over her. Cautiously Georgina touches his snout, then she reaches behind his ear and starts scratching. A purring comes from the throat of the dog and ripples pleasantly through Georginas arm.
He is all friendly, Georgina calls over her shoulder to Set and starts scratching behind the other ear with her other hand. The purring gets louder. Set remains a few steps behind Georgina. He has never seen a druh that close. Once, when hunting with Ferdia, he saw one sitting at the edge of the forest. It was early morning and a pale moon stood in the sky. The animal seemed to watch it riveted. Ferdia changed direction instantly and they returned to Sualtams fort much sooner than usual. They told nobody about it and for a while they didnt go hunting again.
Look! Georgina pulls the shaggy head towards her. A swarm of stars pours over her hair. I think he too likes my apple shampoo. At this moment the purring stops. The druh has set eyes on Set.
He wont harm you Georgina whispers into the pointed furry ear. Slowly the druh frees himself of her embrace and pods towards Set. Another swarm of stars floats through the air. Set stands with sloped shoulders arms pressed against his body. As the stars touch him they start glimmering golden.
How do you do that? Georgina calls out.
I dont do anything Set defends himself in a thick voice. The golden stars hover back to the druh. As they push against his nose he starts gasping. He throws his head back and takes a jump. Set looks for the rocks. But there, the dog already bounces in vast leaps around Set and Georgina and it pounds as if his paws were beating an enormous drum.
Georgina laughs: Its like my guinea pig when it gets fresh hay.
Swans Georgina runs through the dark. She holds something leathery in her hand and in the distance, there is a brightness. Her breath comes in pushes, she has never run so fast. The brightness increases. The leather in her hand must be a piece of Sets vest. Maybe he is behind her. She has no time to turn back. The brightness illuminates the walls of a shaft and there is a rope-ladder. She has to let go of the leather. She climbs the swaying steps; if only Set is behind her. She reaches for the rim of the opening and pulls herself into the day-light. Fighting for breath she stares at the hole in the floor. Time passes. At last the tip of a bow appears and then Sets head. Georgina lets herself glide to the floor.
Puhh! She spreads out her arms and closes her eyes. For a moment she sees the arrow stuck in the rainbow-coloured pupil, but she quickly pushes the image aside. The sickness is gone except for a slight tickling in her throat. Set rolls onto the floor beside her.
Did the arrow strike? he asks as soon as he gets some air.
I dont know, the flame went out before ... The pierced pupil appears again in front of Georgina but she knows that she didnt see the arrow in it. Set tries to remember. There was the light, just before the string left his fingers. And the arrow. It was suddenly there like the stone Georgina had in her hand at the time when Morrigu attacked them. Set sits up and feels his face. Then he pinches Georginas arm.
Ouch. What are you doing? She is incensed.
We are still alive he states satisfied and falls on his back again. The white light was different this time. It didnt dazzle him but filled his head with a clarity making everything quite plain, the vault, the arrow, the opening eye - the flame. A plan Georgina had called it. He had to strike the eye without looking into it. He had to wait until the eye was nearly open and then with one single shot extinguish the flame and blind the opened eye in the darkness behind. If you do it right, the arrow will find its own way. Set smiles.
Georgina watches him from the side. His face is white and there is some spittle stuck in the corner of his mouth. I have never run so fast he observes after a while and wipes away the spittle.
I didnt know you could run so fast, Set adds.
Where are we? she asks while sitting up. The walls of canvas are familiar. It smells of rot as if the tent had been abandoned for months.
Set gets up and pulls his vest right. Then he inspects the tents walls more closely. They are askew and the roof is falling in. As he pulls the tarpaulin from the entrance, one side of the tent collapses. Set mutters an apology while pulling his bow from the poles. Georgina crawls from under the canvas and looks around. They are standing on the hill where the camp was. But it is bare except for some clusters of grass and there is no sign of the other tents.
What happened? Georgina asks. A swan flies over them and alights close to one of the grass clusters.
I have no idea. Set starts walking. A second swan alights beside the first one.
Come. Set walks faster. A third swan arrives and all of them pluck at the grass. As soon as they can see over the brow of the hil,l Set stops in his tracks. The slope is full of swans, they stand side by side and pluck grass.
I have never seen so many, Georgina whispers and her voice is shaking.
Nor have I. More and more swans arrive. Set notices the broken poles of the arena not far from them. The clay ground is invisible under all the plumage. Georgina makes a step towards the birds, but Set doesnt move. Georgina looks back, his face is frozen.
We have to cross them she says under her breath.
I cant. Set clasps his bow.
Do exactly what Im doing and dont look to the side.
Georgina steps into the plumage and feels the slithery swan droppings under her sole.
Come! It sounds like a command and Set obeys.
Georgina searches a way between the bent necks, her smeared feet stick to the ground. The further they get down the slope, the closer the birds are sitting. When they touch plumage a hissing resounds but the swans do not move. Set feels like he is walking through a flood of feathers in which he might drown any moment. They will go for us, he thinks, and as if the swans had heard him innumerable necks are raised. From all sides the small black eyes look at him and he feels it like stings on his skin. He stops but Georgina moves on. In the distance Set can see the river. Does she hope to find the bridge after all? He recognises the brown whirls in the stream. They are only a few steps away from the bank, and then? A soft rush emerges behind them, a breeze, Set thinks first, but it gets louder and blends with a crackling. The river is directly in front of them. Set notices a wing appearing from the plumage beside him, then another one and another one. There is no bridge to be seen. They have reached the waters edge. The ground is trembling, the air is filled with crackling. The swans rise. For a moment Set and Georgina stand in a cloud of wings. Jump Set shouts, feathers brush against his hair. He grabs Georginas arm and jumps.
At first Georgina feels her heart stopping - so cold is the water. She struggles. The current pulls at her, she has to swim. She tries to see the other bank above the waves. Somewhere beside her Set is snorting. A whirl pulls her under. She swallows water. As she emerges again the bank is even further away. There is no sound from Set. She paddles with her arms and legs. There is the next whirl. Again she goes under. She turns in circles, her strength is vanishing. Gasping for air she comes up once more but she knows she cannot reach the other bank. The stream closes above her.
Thats what drowning is like, Georgina thinks. It is completely silent around her and she feels nothing except for a slight pain in her shoulder, like a bite and something pulls at her. At once she can hear the rushing of the river again, she opens her mouth, takes a breath. Somebody paddles beside her, the bank is quite close. Her knees trail over ground and she starts crawling. The pain in her shoulder is gone. Before the darkness encloses her, she sees the white paws at her side.