[Image description: A rocky path surrounded by cliffs.] Image originally by Petura.
Ronda and Tonya are young women locked away so their noisome hallucinations don’t “bother” society. Ronda is determined to summon a selkie from the sea and become immortal; all so she and Tonya can live somewhere where no one will bother them.
But fairy gifts always require a sacrifice.
In the legends Tir Na Nog was a golden land of fruit and honey, where everyone was young and beautiful. A place of sumptuous orchards, gleaming castle, and endless feasts. A place any would exchange mortal life for.
Ronda arrived at its distant shore to find it barren and jagged. A thousand sharp spines of upheaved rocks with thousands of paths between them. It was a harsh reflection of the cliff they had scaled to escape from the mortal shore.
The sky above however was of endless beauty. A constant roiling of the ocean above with all its shades of blue, green, and gray. Somehow the sunlight that filtered down was as bright as the mortal sky. Ronda shivered though she was completely dry.
“This is Tir Na Nog?” Ronda raised her face to look at the rushing waves above.
“Nay, this is the entrance, the Land where Death Dwells.” Maeve exhaled. She peered intensely at Ronda. “You must choose a path, Pilgrim.”
“Let Tonya go.” Ronda countered. Maeve shook her head.
“Not quite yet.” She reached into the contours of her pelt and retrieved a small dagger contained in a sheath of a shimmering, red material. When Ronda withdrew it she found it was of polished silver. Maeve smiled, and it was not a kind one. “It is a gift.”
“I’ve heard it’s bad to take gifts from your kind,” Ronda furrowed her brow. The fairy shrugged and with a roll of her wrist the amethyst in her palm disappeared. Tonya collapsed upon her knees before Ronda.
“Tonya!” She gasped and put her arms around her friend. The other girl remained in a rigid crouch.
“Where are we?” Tonya put a hand to her forehead. “I feel like I blacked out.”
Ronda decided to not tell her she had been a jewel, even one of amazing and vibrant color. She also carefully placed the dagger in her pants pocket before hugging her friend again.
“This is the way into Tir Na Nog.” She gently pulled Tonya up to stand before the start of a path. “Maeve told me we have to walk one of these paths, and sacrifice something to become immortal and live in Tir Na Nog.”
“Sacrifice?” Tonya asked lowly. She glanced at the looming cliffs, so like the ones that has scraped their hands and knees. She looked at the impassive Maeve and narrowed her eyes.
“Should we really trust her?”
“I think she was enslaved once. She has an idea of what we’ve been through.” Tonya looked up at Ronda in surprise. The older girl smiled. “She took me here and agreed to wait until I’m fay to seal the deal.”
She whispered into Tonya’s ear, “I think she feels a little sorry for us.”
Tonya gave her a wary look. Nevertheless she nodded and took Ronda’s hand. They turned towards a path.
“Well I guess we have no choice then.”
Maeve walked up to them. “You can start a path together but you will be separated as we must all walk our own path.”
She glanced at the alters, all gathered along the shore.
She left them. She picked a path and was devoured by its shadow. Ronda shook her head with the fatigue of a lost night’s sleep. Together they chose a random path and were plunged into darkness though the sun beamed brightly overhead.
It was a winding, uneven trail. The sides of stones were smooth but with edges sharp enough to slice. Ronda cut her palm from pinky to thumb on one specious corner. She let go of Tonya’s hand to apply pressure to her wound with the sleeve of her jacket. The well could not be dammed easily however and she was required to rip the sleeve and tie it around her hand. When she finally raised her head she found she was alone for the first time in three years.
No alters, and no Tonya. The wind whistled through the empty canyons with a slicing tune. Ronda gave a low cry of fear.
“Tonya? Tonya!” Only her echo answered her. She walked a few feet and looked down every turn that her friend could have taken. Her alters didn’t look back at her. She was a singularity, floating in vast space.
She glanced at the way back but she could no longer hear the distant shore. She sighed, she was in a labyrinth with no string. Besides, she couldn’t leave until she found Tonya again.
She closed her eyes, but she had no more psychic connection to her alters than she did any other human being. They had always been distinct entities, even if they were not separate personalities. Ronda blinked as she came across a possibility she had never contemplated before.
But what if they’d never had personalities because they had always been in the presence of her, the original personality? What if her presence had simply meant they’d had no need for personalities? If the alters were vessels, they must carry something. She had always recognized that they, in some way, were meant to be conduits. It was why she had felt familiarity and never hostility.
“You can walk many paths.” Maeve’s voice floated back to her. Ronda’s fists clenched. That damned fairy! She should have remembered they never said anything straight! This is what the selkie had meant.
Her alters were walking different paths. Two to perhaps find the way out, and one was likely still with Tonya. Ronda gasped, but what should she do next then? She had no need to look for the way out, and no need to find Tonya.
There was no other task left. Ronda exhaled slowly. She slowly sank to the ground. Maeve had given her that silver dagger knowing all along! She felt bile rise in her throat. The sickening feeling choked her. She covered her mouth to contain her vomit and screaming.
“Can we really trust her?” Tonya had known in some way all along!
Yet she could not find it within herself to hate the fairy-woman. They had no idea about the value of human life. They could have no appreciation for the fear of death.
And this would be the last time she felt it ever again.
Ronda raised her hand. With a series of rapid taps with her knuckles against the stone she sounded out “A Shave and a Haircut”. She waited a few seconds. The melody came back to her, too faint for an echo, but loud enough to be her heart.
She raised the silver dagger. She looked up at the rush of the waves overhead, a perpetual azure sky. She didn’t miss her mark.
And with one stroke the Pilgrim became immortal.
On the farthest boundary of Tir Na Nog a new fairy walked into its luxurious sprawl of tall grass and every kind of wildflower. She looked into its bounty with apprehension, yet a deep sense of belonging. All she knew were the voices. She had arrived at this shore with only a small bag in hand and the clothes on her back.
“Murderer! Killer! It’s your fault she died!”
“Who died?” She murmured, but the vicious mouth at her hip didn’t answer. A shadow fell across her side and she looked up at the azure sky. It was darkening to a deep cobalt as the sun fell away. Nevertheless there was so sense of time. The sunset was a meaningless gesture in a place where death didn’t walk. If someone had died the fairy had no idea when it had happened. It could have been an hour or century before.
Someone was walking towards her. A saxophone began a hot jazz duet with a trombone. The music of her soul, perched on her shoulder.
The other fairy had the body of a youth like her, but with pale skin, freckles and orange hair. In her hand was also a small bag. The other woman smiled and the fairy saw warmth in her brown eyes. Behind her were two shadow-people, manifestations of this person’s self.
She paused far beyond hearing distance, and rapped her knuckles against the cliff face. The entrance to all trials. The fairy put her hand down and felt the reverberation of the melody. Something stirred deep within her, a memory from a dream of a tune that would always let her know she was loved.
Who had loved her?
She gently reprised the tune with her own knuckles as the other woman came near. The woman gave a choked laugh as tears rimmed her eyes.
“I’m Pilgrim.” She introduced herself. The fairy felt churning almost like dread in her belly. Something here was painful, but familiar. “Who are you?”
“I’m…” She paused. She realized she had never spoken this name before. “I’m Wayfarer. Because I’ve come a long way, but I don’t know where from.”
Wayfarer raised a hand to her forehead. “It’s strange but when I look at you, I think I feel nostalgia. I’m not sure why. I’m sorry, I…”
Pilgrim smiled and interrupted her suffering silence by kissing her cheek.
“We all had to give something up to be here.” Pilgrim informed her softly. She gently took Wayfarer’s hands in her own. Her tears slid down her cheeks and soaked their hands. “All I ask is, can I be you friend?”
“Yes,” Wayfarer blinked. She had given the answer without thinking. She knew those tears were for something lost.
Pilgrim looked up and gave a fragile smile. “Thank you.”
She pointed at the bag. “When we get to where we are going, open it. There are things in there that will explain how we got here.”
“Where we are going?” Wayfarer mused on the idea. As she did Pilgrim turned to look behind her.
There came another fairy, a Daughter of the Ocean. She was stark naked with only the cherished sealskin to denote her race. Her silver hair recalled a shore at night, and desperateness.
“We can all get to know each other. Maeve, this is Wayfarer.”
Maeve nodded at her. Pilgrim took her the seal-fairy’s hand.
“I don’t know what’s in your past, Maeve, but I won’t treat you like others have. Let’s get to know one another, all of us, before we make any decisions on who we like to be to each other.”
The ocean’s daughter blinked and slowly smiled as she nodded. Pilgrim wrapped her arms around both of her companion’s waists.
Wayfarer grinned as she realized where she like to go. “Let’s go somewhere where no one will bother us.”
Pilgrim gave a laugh and a soft moan. Wayfarer took her hand and that of the Daughter of the Ocean. She would show them the way.