The Bean-nighe’s Cry
The sunlight plays mockingly under the door to our hut. I squeeze my seanair’s hand, but he does not return the gesture. I have failed him. I have lost count of the times I have tried to watch over him through the night to keep him safe from the evil that would take him from me, but every night I fail. I want to say the words that would bring forgiveness, but my mouth is dry and empty. I stand and rub the tear-salted crust from my eyes and brush the dirt from my kirtle. I am slow in my movements and linger at the fire.
The First Night…
I bury my seanair’s sword under the door. The iron blade heavy and cold when I put it into the ground and claw the dirt back over it. I pat the mound until it is flat. It leaves my nails black and I go to the river to clean myself before my seanair comes home for dinner.
But we had seen the bean-nighe that morning, washing my seanair’s blood soaked shirt in the same death-cold river that cleans the black from my white fingers. In the evening, as the darkness encloses our home, the wind carries her scream through the cracks in the stone.
“It’ll be witchcraft, Eithne,” he warns in hushed tones as we sit with our trenchers.
I try to swallow but I feel a piece of turnip sticking in my throat.
“Droch schuil,” I whisper, my words lost in the sound of our breathing.
My seanair and I cross ourselves, but my fingers tremble. I remember the snowy new lamb that fell last week, his mother’s milk dry too soon. The lamb the old women had looked upon, envy glinting in her black eyes, as she moved her small herd to lower pastures.
My blue eyes slide toward the door. A sword is only a thin iron line when buried in the dirt. My seanair readies himself for sleep while I tidy up and bank the peat fire for the night, slipping a hazel twig among the embers. My seanair does not sing or whistle, as is his habit, and there is no thunder as he walks around our hut, no warrior’s gait. The smoke from the fire lingers near the thatch on the roof and I hunch my shoulders to keep the stinging from my eyes. Tears will not save my seanair.
“Eithne,” he calls from his heath bed.
“Yes?” I answer. My feet make a soft shuffle against the dirt floor as I cross to him. I place a candle on the floor near his bed and the light flickers over the lines in his face.
“You must watch over me tonight and see me safe to sunrise,” he instructs, his grey eyes still sharp under his grey eyebrows.
I nod and my fingers find the witch box hidden in the folds of my woolen kirtle. Drust gifted to me last spring, before he left to fight and never came back. I dig my nails into the wood, but it is hard and strong and my nails leave no marks in its shiny surface.
Soon, my seanair’s rolling snores fill the hut and spill out into the moors. I nudge his shoulder with my bare toes and he settles into a quieter sleep. I eye the crack under the door, searching the dark line for movement, but all is silent beyond the hut. The room is warm but I gather my kirtle against my legs, which tremble still.
The night stretches on and I watch the crack and listen to my seanair’s snores. My eyes are heavy with dreams and I let them slip shut. I pinch my arm hard and I am awake again. I stretch my legs against the prickles and my witch box tumbles off my lap and rolls into the fire. When I try to leap to save it, something shimmers in the blackness under the door and the smoke from the fire fills my lungs. My candle flickers out. I cough and collapse back to the floor. All I can see is black.
The sun is burning a line of golden light under the door and I can hear the blackbirds. This is what wakes me.
I turn to my seanair, who lies next to me among the heath. I cannot shake him awake. I jerk his arm again and again. His stiff body slides in the branches but he does not wake. I can feel tears on my cheeks.
I should bury him, a deep grave on the moors with his sword across his breast. I should place a rough stone to mark the spot until I can have one carved in his honor. I should find a traveling priest to speak the right words to send his soul to Heaven. My clenched teeth break through my cheek and I taste blood. I should have stayed awake.
Stay tuned for extra content this week from Anne. This month we’re posting extra short stories on Halloween. Join us next month when we post four more tales on a new prompt.
For more amazing photos by Days of K, please visit her Flickr page (http://www.flickr.com/photos/daysofk/). Photograph © Copyright, Days of K 2012. All rights reserved. Used with permission.