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  • Writer's pictureAlice Godwin

Aoife - Radiance

WW2, on the eve of Samhain, three sisters returning from a Halloween party are thrown into an unexpected adventure where they have the opportunity to become who they truly are........

“It was a fun party, although if we'd left earlier we would've avoided the curfew.” Morgan glanced at her sister.

“There were a lot of ghosts in sheets.” Nieve commented, as she lit her cigarette deftly and turned the wheel of the battered truck.

“At least they got dressed up.” Morgan remarked looking at Nieve in her working gear of grey coveralls.

“Hey, I came straight from the base, barely had time to wipe the grease off my hands. And I got the truck.” Nieve smiled as she glanced across, the orange glow of the cigarette illuminating her lips. “The two of you were dressed up enough.”

Brianna smiled serenely, her costume was a wedding dress dyed black, with red beads and scraps of scarlet velvet sewn into the bodice so with Brianna’s long auburn hair the effect was bewitching. Morgan was the flapper ghost girl in an emerald shift with strands of pearls around her neck, a veil of tattered white lace floating over her dark hair.

Nieve had linked her arm with Brianna’s and had been her escort; many wrongly assumed her date. Nieve with her black hair as short as a man’s, her features more boyish than womanly, was often mistaken as male, and her protective stance towards her sister heightened the effect.

“Can you see where you're driving?” Morgan asked.

The road was shadowy without any headlights to brighten the way, the truck ambled around a corner and they were out of the gloom of the trees and onto a stretch of road surrounded by fields bare after the recent harvest.

“The full moon is up so it’s not too bad.”

Nieve drove the truck slowly but confidently. She sucked at the last of the cigarette, carefully butting it out so she could unravel the filter and save the remaining tobacco for future use. War created a waste not, want not state of mind.

“Halloween,” muttered Morgan, “do you think there are any ghosts about?”

“There’s enough dead around for there to be ghosts.” Nieve replied wryly.

Suddenly a white shape appeared in front of them, a stag stood for a second on the road ahead, so close that Morgan could see the mist being exhaled from its nostrils, staring at them before bounding off. Nieve hit the brakes, turning the heavy steering wheel and the truck skidded halfway across the road and almost into a ditch. The engine clunked and shuddered as it came to a halt.

“What happened?” Brianna asked staring at the road.

“It was a deer or something.” Morgan muttered.

“It was a stag. Did you see the size of those antlers? They were huge.”

“Where did it come from?” Morgan glanced around at the empty fields.

“Where did it go?” Nieve whispered, as she looked around at the countryside that was illuminated in shades of silver, it was almost as bright as day now that her eyes had become accustomed to the night. “Shame we didn’t have Uncle Pete’s rifle we could've had enough meat for half of winter.”

Nieve creaked the steering wheel around and put the truck back into gear and they began slowly moving again.

“What time is it Morgan?” Brianna asked quietly.

Morgan looked at her watch, trying to see the tiny hands on its face. Nieve passed over a Zippo lighter, Morgan flicked the wheel and the flare of the flame illuminated her arm, she clicked it shut. “Almost midnight.” She said. She turned the shiny steel lighter in her fingers, it was smooth and felt opulent. “Where did you get this?”

“A Yankee flyboy gave it to me.” Nieve’s voice was guarded.

“I see.”

“No you don’t.” Nieve said abruptly. “It’s not anything like you’re thinking.”

“What’s that sound?” Brianna said suddenly.

The other two listened; the grumbling engine was all that was apparent to their ears.

“What sort of noise?” Nieve asked.

“Very faint. A rumble.” Brianna blinked vaguely. The other two glanced at each other.

“You know I might be blind but I’m not deaf.” Brianna’s voice was defiant.

“I can hear it.” Nieve said. The low toned rumble was more audible.

“Is it a plane?”

“It’s a Messerschmitt.”

“You can tell that?” Morgan stared at Nieve.

“I’ve been working on air bases for three years. All planes sound different. Our planes, their planes, bombers, fighters, transporters. They all have their own resonance. I can tell which of our bombers are returning long before they become visible just by the sound they make.”

The three sisters listened intently. Morgan felt Brianna’s hand reach for hers. They entwined their fingers together.

“It’s a Messerschmitt definitely but not one I’ve ever heard before. The engine sounds unfamiliar. There’s a whine in it as well.” Nieve was staring at the sky.

A star appeared to the left of the moon and grew brighter.

“It’s been hit, that’s the whine, and it’s coming in for a crash landing. It will be looking for a road, something straight and long. Like the one we’re on. We have to get off this road." Nieve said sharply.

The star was getting brighter. Nieve put her foot down and the truck jerked stubbornly a few yards and then died.

“Damn!” She wrenched the ignition and the truck lurched forward. She put her foot down and the truck began to pick up speed..

Morgan was staring at the light, which was coming straight at them; it was so bright the moon had faded into insignificance. The sound was so loud that it filled the entire night sky. The whine had intensified into a scream like a Banshee, terrifying and intense. The truck was moving fast now but the light was moving faster, the silver jet fighter was now visible, streamlined like a falcon with flames shooting out golden from one side.

The plane was heading straight towards them.

Morgan held onto Brianna’s hand so tightly she knew she must’ve been hurting her. The plane filled the sky; its metallic face took up the entire windscreen. It flew above them so close that the truck shuddered with the vibration, Morgan could see the pilot in the cockpit, and the heat from the burning wing singed the canvas canopy of the truck. There was a smell of diesel and a blinding flash and the whoosh of a hot wind.

The truck lifted into the air and the last thing Morgan saw was the hedge illuminated by fire and the truck hurtling towards it. Then there was blackness.

Nieve half woke to the aroma of something herbal and astringent, later she resurfaced to the sweet smell of rosewater and the face of a girl with cornflower blue eyes and hair silvery like the moon. I’ve died and gone to heaven, she thought, and if all the angels look like her I’ll be happy. She slept. When she finally awoke properly she was in a room of harsh grey stone, candles burning in alcoves, and the rafters were hung with bundles of drying herbs. She was lying on a pallet and beside her were her sisters, sitting up sipping from wooden bowls.

She sat upright; the girl with the moonbeam hair came over and passed her a small bowl. It smelt delicious.

“At last you have awoken.” The girl smiled. “I’m Irial.”

“Where are we?” Nieve asked.

“You are with the Priestesses of Morrigu.”

Nieve looked at her sisters perplexed, Morgan shrugged her shoulders, and Brianna smiled.

“You came to us at Samhain, in the sacred grove of Elder, the four of you appeared in a clash of thunder. We thought two men and two women. It was only after we removed your clothes we realised you were a woman too.” Her smile was playful. “Then we knew Morrigan had come as was foretold. The three sisters and the man who is a bird.”

“The pilot.” Brianna said quietly.

Nieve sipped some soup and realised how hungry she was. Irial passed her a small flat piece of bread that she chewed on; there was a hint of caraway.

“Men are not permitted inside our enclosure. But as he is with you we are keeping him with our mares.” Irial said with a hint of laughter in her voice. She stood, she was dressed in a long tunic the color of wheat, and as she glided out the arched doorway she looked back and smiled at Nieve.

“Are we dead or something?” Nieve asked in-between mouthfuls of bread and soup.

“No.” Brianna said with authority. “We have returned home.”

For two days the sisters lay in the room regaining their strength and being looked after by Irial. On the third day Irial took them to a bathhouse, she led them to a stone pool full of hot steamy water that smelt of minerals, a natural spring. They bathed and dressed; Irial helped them into their tunics of black and red, combing their hair and winding strands of jet stones through Brianna’s red hair.

“We are going to see our Mother, the Crone. She will answer all your questions.”

They followed Irial through rooms where large cauldrons hung in enormous fireplaces and tables hewn from logs stood, airy chambers of looms and spinning wheels, fleece hanging on hooks, storehouses dark and cool, and finally into a large hall.

The place was full of women of all ages, dressed like Irial in pale tunics. At the far end on a throne-like chair sat a woman, ancient, hair like snow and a face cracked by a thousand lines. She was the only one of the women wearing a black tunic, Morgan noticed she was smiling and her eyes were kind.

They stopped in front of her and a young man with blonde hair was led to stand with them, he was wearing a deep red tunic and black baggy trousers. Morgan recognised the pilot, although she had only seen him for a second and he’d been wearing goggles, she would've known him anywhere. His eyes were grey and serious. He's exceptionally handsome, thought Morgan and blushed.

“Welcome Morrigan. We are honoured by your presence.” The woman said, her voice filling the room.

She looked at each of them. “Babd. Nemain. Macha. We are your servants.” She looked at the young man. “We welcome Brannen, the sacred bird.”

He looked confused. Join the club, thought Nieve.

“I am Nieve. This is Brianna and Morgan.” She gestured to her sisters.

“I am Paulo.” His German accent sounded even foreign here in this strange place.

“As you wish to be named, so shall it be.” The old woman said and nodded. “In two nights our Tuathal rides in with his army. We ride to battle on the new moon. Ask and we shall give.”

She leaned back.

Nieve felt Irial’s touch. The audience was over.

They sat outside in the afternoon sunshine on a flat stone bench, around them the herbs that could withstand winter grew: sage, rosemary, thyme, lavender, comfrey, wormwood.

“Well that adequately explained everything.” Nieve laughed. “Hey flyboy you got a smoke?”

He shook his head; he was looking at Morgan with an expression on his face that Nieve knew well, awe. Morgan with her wavy hair and beautiful face, looking like a raven-haired version of Veronica Lake, tended to have that effect on men. She was totally unaware of her looks and the impact that she created.

“What’s the Morrigan?” Morgan said and looked at Brianna.

“The Celtic Goddess of War.” Brianna explained. “A Triple Goddess, hence the three names. She rides into battle on her black horse or else flies above as a raven.”

“That’s what they think we are?”

“It is what we are.” Brianna said simply. “That is why we are here.”

“And where are we?”

“In the past, a thousand years, two thousand perhaps.”

Irial returned and paused beside Brianna and whispered in her ear.

“The Mother wishes to speak to me.” Brianna glanced at her sisters, her pale eyes seemed to glow with some inner fire, she stood up, took Irial’s hand and left.

“Does Brianna know something we don’t” Nieve asked.

“She seems to.” Morgan agreed.

“Are you sisters?” Paulo asked.

Morgan nodded.

“She is blind?”

“Two years now. Caught in the Blitz. She was working in a hospital and refused to leave her patients who were too badly wounded to be moved.” Morgan said surprised that her voice didn’t carry the bitterness that it had in the past. She looked at Paulo. Could she blame him? Did he give the order? Fly the plane? Pull the lever that dropped the bomb? He looked so young.

“Was that a Messerschmitt you were flying?” Nieve interrupted.


“Is it a new one? I haven’t heard one like that before.”

He looked around at the herb garden enclosed by the low, rough stonewalls, he seemed to be weighing up what he should say. They were far from home, he realised. Did any of that matter anymore?

“Ja, it’s very new. I was test flying it. Some returning bombers chased me over the channel. I almost outflew them but I got hit. We call it the Schwalbe.”

“The Swallow.” Nieve nodded.

“You seem very young to be a test pilot.” Morgan said.

“The war has been long, only the young and the old remain. The others are dead or fighting somewhere.” He sounded weary. “I am twenty. I didn’t plan to be a pilot. I was going to go to the conservatorium. I play violin. I am considered gifted. I was to join the Stuttgart Orchestra. War changes things.” He looked at his hands. “Planes seem to respond to my touch, I have an affinity with them. I fly well.”

“I understand.” Nieve said softly. “Engines respond to me like that. I can almost feel what’s happening inside them. Feel what’s wrong. Hear their thoughts.” He looked at Nieve and a look of intimacy passed between them as though they were lovers. Morgan felt jealous, before realising that it was their shared passion for aircraft that connected them, nothing else.

Why am I even feeling this, she thought, he is German, he is the enemy.

It was almost dusk, the air shimmered with a pale blue quality and the last of the bees were buzzing home. The three sisters were sitting once again on the slab in the herb garden. Brianna had only just returned from her private audience. She was very quiet and her sisters didn’t know what to ask her. Finally she began speaking.

“I know that you think being blind is like being in darkness. But it’s not. I’m not in darkness. I am in perpetual light. Like looking at the sun, white hot light. Pure radiance. It’s beautiful.” She smiled at them. Her eyes no longer blue now opaque like moonstones washed with milk.

“Since we've been here, I see colour, glorious colours, patterns, intricate webs, shadows rearranging into a kaleidoscope of brilliance. I see dreams forming. I understand the arrangements and the weaving that is bringing them into tangibility and what they mean. I see the future.”

“What is the future?” Nieve asked.

“Mists and blood. The wolf will dominate the hounds. The battle will be fought and won and fought again.” Brianna answered cryptically. “I am where I belong.”

“And us?”

“Enjoy the time you have here. It is short. You will discover things about yourselves that need to be uncovered. There are many types of blindness.”

In the distance the dinner bell rang.

“It will all become clear.” Brianna smiled down at Nieve who continued to sit brooding, as she and Morgan left together.

The evening came down gently like a forgotten memory, bittersweet and fuzzy, the trees and the buildings blending together as the light faded. Nieve felt disquiet, an unsettledness that she couldn’t decipher. This place was peaceful, the hum of the women as they went about their daily tasks, the breezes in the trees. Perhaps it was too quiet. After years of living on the bases, hearing the thundering engines of the planes as they landed and took off at all hours of the day and night.

The heavy Lancaster Bombers, the spitfires as temperamental as race horses, the groaning of the Sterling’s, the deep drone of the cargo transporters as dependable as Clydesdales. Now there was silence. For years living with men, the pilots and gunners, engineers and navigators, the atmosphere all bravado and cockiness, the adrenalin rush mingled with fear so strong it was like an aftershave that hung above the airfield before departure.

The returning swagger of elation at escaping death once more tempered by the anxiety of knowing that others, friends, brothers, had not. All that machismo and boldness that lived on the surface while below the other emotions were kept locked away, bottled up, occasionally released, disguised as alcohol fuelled anger that resulted in fights.

Here living with all these women the atmosphere was different. There were undercurrents below the surface that Nieve could feel, it wasn’t all lightness and femininity, there was darkness here as well, passions and fears lurked in the corners too. It was more complex though; Nieve felt she was navigating unchartered waters. Deep in thought she almost didn’t feel the touch on her arm. She turned to look into Irial’s laughing eyes.

“I wondered where you were.” She took hold of Nieve’s hands as she sat beside her.

“You have strong hands like a man, smaller but strong and hard. You walk like a man. You almost talk like a man; your voice is lower than most women’s. Did you know that?” Irial was gazing into Nieve’s eyes. She lifted one hand and ran her fingers through Nieve’s hair. “Your hair is softer than a man’s even though it is so short.”

Her face was so close to Nieve’s that Nieve was breathing her breath. She smelt like honey and apples and Nieve felt hypnotised. The fingers ran down her cheek and neck. “Your skin is so smooth. No trace of beard. But you could be a boy. A very handsome boy.” Irial leaned back smiling. Nieve found herself able to breathe again.

“But you’re a woman.” Irial tossed her hair back, the pale blonde shimmering in the twilight. She smiled coquettishly. “I find you fascinating.”

If she weren’t some priestess I’d swear she was flirting with me, thought Nieve before muttering. “It’s only because I come from a different time and place.”

“No.” laughed Irial, “that’s not it.”

The Tuathal rode into their lives on a morning thick with clouds, the sky bruised purple, the smell of rain on the fickle winds. He arrived with a thousand men or so it seemed. The sound of their arrival was like a Lancaster returning thought Nieve, savouring the familiarity of war. The three of them and Paulo stood next to the Mother in the hall. Maolan strode in with two other warriors, broad shouldered with their straight swords hanging from their belts. He was tall, charismatic, with thick brown hair streaked with silver; his face was scarred, and he was regal more than handsome.

His eyes were like a wild sea crashing against the cliffs, he was all contained fury, restrained power. He was like a wolf. He bowed to the Mother and to the three women. He looked at Brianna and went down on his knees and lowered his head.

“My Lady.” His voice carried across the hall, quiet as it was. He reached for her hand and kissed it. He looked up into her face.

Brianna smiled. She touched his face with her fingers, feeling the contours, gently caressing the scars. Seeing him with her hands. “My Lord.” She whispered.

He gazed at her, enthralled, spellbound but there was recognition as well. It was as though they were meeting again after a long absence, finally reunited after years apart, not like they were meeting for the first time. No one else in the room existed but the two of them. It was so intimate Morgan felt embarrassed to be watching.

“We are blessed by your presence. You have come as was foretold.”

“We, the Morrigan, are here to bestow our favours on you and the coming battle.” Brianna answered. “We ride united.”

He smiled. It was like the sun had come out from behind a cloud, it was dazzling.

He stood up; he turned and looked at Paulo. “This is the man who is a bird.”

Nieve coughed and then spoke. “No he doesn’t change into a bird. He flies a metal bird. A bird of Iron.”

“Where is this Iron bird?” He asked turning to Nieve.

“It is not here.”

“You are a warrior?” He looked again at Paulo, didn’t wait for an answer. “We need fighters. Can you use a sword?”

Paulo shook his head.

“We have a week. Fiontan will teach you. Every morning at dawn you will practice. You look like someone who learns fast.” He gave the young man a smile before looking at Brianna.

“With your permission I would like to speak with you privately. You and Our honoured Mother.” He bowed again to Brianna. The three left for the inner chamber behind the curtains. Everyone dispersed.

Morgan found herself spending her afternoons with Paulo, she hadn’t planned to, but Nieve was out most days with Irial exercising the horses. Brianna spent her time alone; in some sort of trance or meditative state, or else she was with the Tuathal or the Mother. Paulo spent his mornings training arriving back for the midday meal, and somehow the two of them naturally ended up together. They were both the same age and as long as they avoided the war they found they had a lot in common. Morgan talked about being a teacher and the children in her class, Paulo spoke about his five students that he was giving violin tuition to. They spoke about their childhood and families, about music, about life before.

The first few afternoons they stayed around the herb garden but as his muscles became more accustomed to his morning exercises, they started going for walks, up into the groves of hawthorn, blackthorn and elder. The woods were full of falling yellow leaves, moss and mushrooms, the black berries from the elder trees and the shiny red clusters on the hawthorn. Sometimes Morgan laughed so much she forgot that he was a German, stopped noticing the accent, hearing just the words and the man behind them.

Nieve was also enjoying her time with Irial, the physicality of being back on a horse, the sheer thrill of riding fast, the forgotten skills of turning and weaving around the trees. She slipped back into her teenage years so easily that there were times this world felt real and her other just some dream. On their final afternoon before their departure, Nieve broached the subject of what would actually happen in battle.

Irial’s face lit up. “It’s wonderful.” She exclaimed. “We ride possessed by the Goddess. We call to the wolves and the bears, to the eagles and the ravens to join us. We summon the undead, the ghosts, the Twyleth Teg, the wraiths of the underworld to aid us. We invite the mists to confuse our enemies; we bring down their nightmares to weaken them. We shoot our fiery arrows at them and decapitate their bodies as they fall, dead or alive, their blood is sacred to the Goddess.” Her eyes were wild with excitement.

“For one so sweet you have a bloodthirsty side.” Nieve commented wryly.

“The Goddess has many faces,” Irial said softly, “she is not just the Goddess of war, she is also the Goddess of dreams, of passion and of love.” She gave Nieve an enigmatic look.

“Tonight is the time of the dark moon, a sacred time. I’ll initiate you into one of her more gentler aspects.” Irial smiled.

Then she banged her knees against the mare’s flanks and with a whoop and a childlike yell she took off, her long hair braided into a pale rope swinging wildly behind her. Nieve laughed before urging her horse on; behind her the sun lowered itself gracefully into the cradle of the earth.

Nieve followed Irial closely as she led her through the trees; the night sky was a deep black with a thousand stars twinkling coldly. Finally they arrived at a grove surrounded by trees, their twisting bare branches creating a disturbing silhouette. They stood beside a dark pool.

Irial helped Nieve remove her cloak and tunic. Nieve shivered with cold and unease.

Irial removed a leather pouch and dipped her hand into it and began rubbing the paste over Nieve’s body, gentle fingers drew spiral shapes over Nieve’s shoulders, breasts, stomach.

“Sacred menstrual blood mixed with clay.” Irial whispered. Nieve pulled back.

“Would it be less confronting if I told you it was my blood?” Irial laughed and continued daubing.

She began to sing, a crooning lyrical lullaby in a strange language. Nieve lost herself in the sweet harmony. “Now you must bathe in the sacred pool and release your soul to the Goddess.”

Irial led Nieve over to the pool. Nieve stepped into the water, it was cool, and slowly she waded in, thigh deep, waist deep, shoulder deep, the black water swirling around her, embracing her. Irial was behind her, she was aware of her as though the ripples that circled from her and intersected with the ripples that flowed from Nieve were connected, communicating in their own language. Suddenly the bottom disappeared and she felt herself drop vertically into the water. Down she went, the water was black and cold, silent like death, she felt a sublime sense of peace as she fell, a letting go of everything.

I’m dying, Nieve thought. She felt hands grab her and pull her; she resurfaced gasping with Irial’s strong arms around her.

“Did you think I’d let you go so easily?” Irial laughed.

Irial pulled her onto the grass and wrapped her cloak around the two of them; the lining was thick rabbit fur, soft and lush. Nieve was shaking with cold so much her teeth were chattering. Irial held her close; gradually the warmth of the cloak and Irial’s body heat seeped into her. She relaxed. She looked into Irial’s face; she felt her arms, her breasts, her stomach, her thighs pressed against her body.

Irial kissed her, a warm gentle kiss that became more passionate. Nieve responded as though she had been waiting for this moment all her life. Nieve ran her fingers through Irial’s hair; silvery like a moonbeam it fell down to her waist, wetter strands half way down still dropped water against her skin. She felt Irial’s hands stroking her body, following the contours of her hips and curving around her bottom. She moaned and kissed Irial more intensely, feeling their tongues curling around together, savouring her taste of honeyed apples. The cloak unravelled freeing their bodies, Irial began kissing Nieve’s throat, her shoulders, her breasts, her tongue circled her stomach as though she were repainting the earlier spirals, her fingers caressing her hips and legs, gently parting her thighs and stroking the soft mound between. Nieve surrendered finally to the desires she had kept locked away for so long.

Morgan found Brianna sitting in the herb garden, she sat at her feet and rested her head in her sister’s lap, Brianna stroked her hair tenderly like she used to when they were children. Morgan felt restless and edgy. Fears crept under her skin like worms but it was one particular fear, like a mantra it kept whispering to her. For months now she had been thinking the same thought, over and over. She felt ashamed, with so many people dying and suffering, so much hardship, what she was thinking was not only sinful but also self-centred. With death an ever-constant possibility Morgan feared she would die a virgin, die before she had ever known what it would be like to lie in a man’s arms. She felt her face burning with embarrassment.

“Tonight is the dark of the moon.” Brianna spoke softly. “The time of hidden desires, when secret longings can be set free, a night where there are no taboos, nothing is forbidden. Go to him, there will not be another opportunity.”

Morgan looked into her sister’s familiar face, her fey beauty even more pronounced and otherworldly. The eldest and the youngest, Morgan held her hand for a moment before leaving.

Paulo was sitting outside staring up into the sky. The Milky Way shone brilliantly like a silver tapestry of ethereal stardust. He didn’t seem surprised to see Morgan.

“The constellations have moved.” He said. “Orion, Perseus, Pegasus are not in the same position they were before. Even the North star is a few degrees lower.” He looked at Morgan. “I’ve been thinking that I must be dead. I couldn’t have survived that crash. I came in too fast. There is no way I could've lived.” He smiled sadly.

“You look alive.” Morgan’s voice shook. She reached for his hand. “You feel alive, come with me.”

She led him into the woods. Her heart was beating so loudly it sounded like a drum leading a march. She led him to a small clearing; it was so dark she could barely see him. She leaned into him, feeling his warm body against hers, she kissed him, he responded ardently, pulling her closer, wrapping his arms around her.

“I want you to make love to me.” Morgan whispered. “But you mustn’t say a word, not one.” She felt his smile against her face.

He kissed her and ran his hands over her body. It’s not just violins and planes that respond to his touch, she thought as he removed her clothes tenderly and reverently as though he had been handed a rare exquisite violin. Without sight and sound, in the darkness touch became the dominant sensation, their mouths, hands, bodies.

His fingers stroked her like he was tuning strings, first G, then D, on to A, and then finally the high E. The pitch was pure and clear as a bell; her body sang out to him, rising into a crescendo of intensity, he pushed into her. He felt her wince, a small cry like that of an animal came from her lips. He stopped, understood, kissed her more passionately, and with gentleness he thrust into her taking her to a higher level of arousal, taking her where she wanted to go.

“Mein Fata Morgana,” His voice was a breeze that blew over her and through her.

The following day was a blur of preparation; they rode out, a mass of men, weapons, and horses, like a storm gathering momentum, growing larger and more dangerous. Nieve sat astride a huge black warhorse; a gift from Maolan, Brianna behind her, holding her waist and her long red hair blew like a banner, a pennant the color of blood. Morgan rode with Irial on a mare black with starbursts of silver on her flanks. The other women followed. They camped under a sliver of moon, the night icy.

Dawn rose bleak, the sky the color of sharpened swords and tarnished arrowheads.

The women circled the battlefield; the horses skittish and wary, the sounds were horrific, clanging of iron, thundering of hooves, screams of pain. The women rode in circles singing and screeching, they rode faster as though they were weaving an invisible hoop around the men. The sisters rode with them, everything was becoming hazy, smudgy, suddenly they found themselves in the air, spiralling on the currents with wings black as jet.

Below the battle raged. Maolan fought like a wolf, all instinct and cunning, his horse and his sword just extensions of his body; it was like watching a dance of destruction, as beautiful as it was terrifying. Morgan saw Paulo wielding his sword as though he had been born to it. As she watched a bear of a man swung his lance and knocked Paulo to the ground, he lifted the shaft and was about to plunge it through the fallen man when a fiery arrow ripped into his back. Irial swept in on her mare and pulled Paulo up behind her in one swift motion, she looked up at the ravens and smiled in delight, urging her horse forward. Fires were lit all along the perimeter of the field and Irial galloped by, dipping the jet arrowhead into the flames so it flared up a spooky green.

The sisters flew in circles. Clouds of mist obscuring the scene below, when it parted, a medieval battle raged, armoured men, warhorses, battleaxes, broadswords, and crossbows. The clouds swirled, another milieu, canons, muskets, the smoke of gunfire, the stench of burnt flesh.

Mist and smoke wavered, the evolution of war, artillery, machineguns, the muddy hell of the Somme, the yellow fog of gas gathering in poisonous pockets. Another war more familiar, tanks heaved over the land scarring the surface as bombers flew through the air dropping their load like birds laying deadly eggs.

The sisters landed on the ground and rose up into human form again. Around them the ghosts of war gathered, multilayered, as though time existed together in one place, not linear or sequential, but a helix, a helicoid where all of time existed simultaneously together, spiralling around endlessly. Morgan stared at the ground; rivers of blood swirled around their feet, seeping into the earth, staining the mud red. The sisters held hands.

“Look.” Brianna whispered.

Above them a huge cloud formed, like a mountainous jellyfish, bright as the sun, it grew and grew filling the sky, radiant, incandescent, shimmering with elemental energy, deadly.

The sisters gazed with awe.

“It’s time for me to say goodbye.” Brianna spoke softly. Morgan and Nieve stared at her. “Remember me. Remember the radiance. Beyond what is to come you will find the radiance. Do not be afraid.”

She let their hands go and faded away. Her voice a whisper of wind,

“I’ll always love you and I will look after those you have loved. Always.”

Morgan woke to a throbbing pain in her wrist, her arm was set in plaster, the bed she lay on was hard, the sheets rigid as glass. She managed to sit up. A pale watery sun shone through the large windows. Nieve lay in a bed nearby her head wrapped in bandages, sleeping.

A nurse came into the room. “At last you are awake. We were getting a bit concerned. It’s not normal to be unconscious for as long as you were.” She fussed around Morgan. “And this one as well.” She was now beside Nieve, who was shifting in her bed, slowly waking.

“Brianna?” Morgan asked fearfully.

The nurse hesitated. She sat on Morgan’s bed and held her unbandaged hand. She looked across at Nieve who was now sitting up.

“I’m sorry my dear, your sister died last night.”

Morgan looked into Nieve’s eyes, shock, sadness, but not surprise.

“And the German died this morning. How he survived these two weeks with those horrific injuries is beyond us.” She shook her head, standing up. “Still one less German in the world is not a bad thing eh?”

Morgan felt her heart splinter.

“I’ll let the doctor know. He’ll want to look at you both.”

She left the room.

Morgan stood and walked to the window, looked out. They were in the upper storey of a stately home that had been converted into a hospital. An avenue of trees, elms and oaks, stood bare branched against the grey sky. Huge trees, centuries old, wise and enduring, they had seen conflicts come and go, alliances shift, kings and queens be born and die.

Nieve was now beside her, holding her close, comforting her. Two, where there had once been three. They held on to each other like chess pieces, black hair and white bandages. Nieve noticed the calendar on the wall, dates crossed out until Wednesday 15th November, 1944 stood clear in the centre, today’s date.

“What happened?” Morgan asked her voice tiny.

Nieve shook her head, how to explain the unexplainable?

“So much blood.” Morgan whispered. “So much war. Does it ever end?”

“It will Morgan. Wars always end. I know it feels like it will go on forever. But it won’t.” Nieve stroked Morgan’s face.

“What was that explosion we saw? Was that some new weapon? Was that the end of the world?” Morgan’s face was bleak, drained to bone whiteness.

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s what will end this war.”

“What did she mean? Remember the radiance. I don’t understand any of it.” She began crying, sobbing. Nieve held her closer, wanting to join her but unable to, her eyes dry and burning with pain, she felt like her heart had cracked and was lying in her chest still beating but now two halves not a whole. She thought of Irial, astride her horse, shooting her fiery arrows, her moon-bright hair flowing behind, laughing, forever riding with a Goddess who had once been their sister.

“Perhaps it’s life when the war is finally over.” Nieve said slowly. “When we can live as we were meant to.”

Morgan thought of Paulo, wondered if he still existed in that place so distant yet it seemed only a heartbeat away. If she closed her eyes she could almost be there. See her sister, blind but all seeing, alive and vital, the Morrigan.

“Was any of it real? Or was it a dream?”

“It was real, Morgan. As real as where we are now.” Nieve laughed suddenly. “It was one helluva two weeks though? Would we change that for anything?”

Morgan shook her head and smiled. “I guess we will always have the memories.”

They stared out the window, in one of the branches stood a sleek raven, oily night plumage, huge razor beak, between its claws hung a white bird, dead, a pigeon or perhaps a dove. It plucked the feathers out delicately and with precision. They fell and drifted down to the ground softly, gently, like snow or blossoms, pretty yet tainted with a tiny droplet of blood at the end of each shaft.

©AliceGodwin 2010

originally published Nocturnal Illumination Full Moon Anthology

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