A/N: Hello one and all. I hope ya'll are having a good Christmas season so far. We haven't actually hit Christmas yet, but just asking no less. I still need to get to Austin to buy some supplies to make some things for Amanda and her mom, maybe even some books. :D
Under The Oak Tree
In the middle of the old forest stood the old oak tree, whose saplings would be cut down to be made into various useful items and whose older children were cut down to make great doors that could withstand vast amounts of damage to protect the humans behind them. The tree stood in that one place for generations, always tall and grand with twisting limbs reaching out every direction. This tree was a sacred tree for its years and strength.
The tree saw many things in its long life. It saw children climbing its branches and falling off. It saw young people making love and older people enjoying its wide shade in the afternoon sun. Not at the same time, of course, but all the same it was a grand old tree, indeed.
The spirits enjoyed the tree as much as they did in life, but most moved on to other things and other lives; all except one. This one spirit had seen much in his brief but great life, and so chose to not continue on. It bored him a great deal to stick around in heaven with all the other souls, but he simply could not justify going onto another life, as much as it pained his dear wife to watch him grow rather apathetic toward things around him in the great beyond.
This spirit would come down to the old oak tree and sit underneath her great branches and listen to the life happening around him when heaven seemed far too boring to be around any longer. God, or whatever he was that called himself as such, seemed far too happy to allow him to leave the place than this spirit ever expected, but he took the gift for what it was.
He was born Setanta, but he had been named Cuchulainn later when he was still but a small boy, far smaller than any of the other boys around him. He had known when he was a child that he would grow up to be something greater than anyone could dream of. His father was the god of light and his mother a human princess. When he slew the great dog of Chulainn, he swore to take the dog's place as watchhound for the smithy until another dog could be raised. For this, Cuchulainn was named "Chulainn's Dog" and he bore the name proudly.
And he was very handsome indeed! His face was beautifully sculpted with red eyes and a head of rather shaggy blue hair on the top of his head and a long mane on the lower part of his head that he typically kept in a ponytail. In life, he was best known for being popular with the ladies. When he died, the women of his home wept for his loss.
Though he had never been to it in life, Cuchulainn enjoyed lying under the boughs of the great old tree and think about good times past and the events he could see around him. He would always come down and see the state of the people around him and the state of the old forest, but he always lost track of how long it was before he visited the old tree the next time. Each time he visited, the tree grew older and older, bigger and bigger until it finally died. Next to it would be another oak tree growing in its place and growing up like its mother before it.
At least it gave Cuchulainn the opportunity to gage time.
And so he sat under that child of the great old oak tree and came back to visit as it continued to grow up and grow as old as its mother before it.
One day, however, he found his usual spot a bit occupied. There under the tree lay a young woman wearing men's clothing, which was a brilliant jewel blue with gold trim. She was clearly royalty and clearly posing as a man, but he found himself almost compelled to speak to her somehow, even if she was snoozing in the afternoon shade of the oak tree.
The gold light of the sun filtering through the green leaves cast an almost ethereal glow to the young woman as he leaned over her silently. Her long blonde hair was pulled back in a tight braided circle behind her head which glittered gently in the light of the sun like spun gold. Her face was gentle and calm, like the old tree she laid under. Her skin was pale and her cheeks were pink and full of youthful glow. Indeed, if he didn't already know her to be a young woman he could have mistaken her for a very pretty young prince from some fairy tale, though a very short prince. She opened her eyes up at him and he saw that they were as fair as she was; blue-green and clear like the ocean far away from her current position.
Cuchulainn smiled gently toward her and reached a ghostly hand to her face, using some of his seemingly endless energy to push a lock of gold hair from her cheek. "What maiden lies beneath the oak tree as if nothing could harm her?" he asked, grinning cheekily at her.
She frowned at him faintly and looked around before sitting up to rub her eyes with leather gloved hands. She seemed as though she could not see or hear him. This annoyed Cuchulainn greatly, for it was not often he found a beautiful girl like this one. He might be dead, but he wasn't blind or stupid.
"Oi," he called again, moving a little away from her as she yawned and stretched. "I said 'OI'," he called once more before growing a bit frustrated. "Damned cross dressing little wench," he grumbled as he moved up onto one of the long branches above her to lie back on.
"You don't have to be rude, you know," she said somewhat tartly. She looked straight ahead and frowned more as though she couldn't understand where she heard his voice from. She looked up finally as she heard the tree branch move slightly. "Are you up there?" she asked. She had a rather annoyingly articulate English voice, stiff and practiced with very little to show that she was indeed human.
"Can you not see me, then?" asked Cuchulainn. He snorted and leaned over a bit to look down at her easier, finding he really didn't need to bother anyway. Who had ever heard of a ghost falling off a tree branch?
"See you? No, I see no one, but I hear you well enough. A bit far from home, aren't you?" she said, eyeing his position with a practiced calm that only a royal could manage.
"Aye, I am a bit," he said, smirking faintly to himself.
She gazed up at the tree as though she would make it divulge its secrets with a mere look, but the tree didn't give up any. "What manner of spirit are you?" she finally asked after a long silence. "Are you some sort of demon come to tempt me to do harm?"
Cuchulainn snorted once more and rolled his eyes, moving back to lie on the tree branch once more. "You Christians are all the same. When you get a strange voice in a tree you automatically think it's some great demon come to torment you."
"If you aren't a demon, then what are you?" she asked, glaring up toward his general direction with some annoyance. So, she did have emotions, then?
"A ghost, of course," he said, grinning as much to himself as he was toward her. "Too bad you can't see me! I'm a right handsome dog, as well!"
Annoyance grew in intensity on her fair features, though she remained very calmly glaring up at his branch as though she were willing him to come down and talk to her properly. "A ghost? A ghost of an Irishman that sits in the boughs of an old oak tree? Was this a place you loved dearly in life?"
"Of course not! What would make you think that?" He laughed and shook his head before leaning over once more to look at the young woman. "What is your name, by the way?" he asked.
"Arthur Pendragon," she said, straightening a bit stiffly to appear as male and royal as possible. "I am the king of this land."
Cuchulainn burst out laughing and promptly fell off the branch, though he really sort of just floated to the ground and crouched there. In a way, crouched down as he was, he resembled a dog sitting and looking up at a person in that familiar friendly way dogs tend to have when greeting people. "I've seen many rather pretty young men in my life, but I know women far better. Believe me when I say you can't fool me one whit into thinking you're anything but a woman in men's clothing." He grinned more deviously now and took a nice long look at her from a bit closer up. "So, tell me, your highness," he said softly and slowly, "what is your real name?"
The young woman didn't turn, but she did shiver slightly when he spoke closer to her ear. He smirked and silently lauded himself for his exemplary skills in dealing with women. When she did speak, it was a softer, more feminine tone that came out than before. "Why should I tell a ghost? Especially one who might give me away easily," she said and then added quickly, "If I were a woman as you claim me to be."
"Smart and pretty! I like that sort of combination!" He leaned a bit closer and spoke in her ear as low as possible, his voice coming like a gentle breeze across her ear. "I won't tell a soul of your name, your highness. I swear it. Only I will have that privilege to speak it toward you should I see you other times."
"Do," she began and swallowed a bit loudly to steady her voice, "Do you mean to see me again?"
"If you come to this very tree I will swear to visit as well," he said softly.
She grew silent and looked as though she weighed the pros and cons of what she should say next before a voice called out her male name from not too far off. He forgot that there was a small road of sorts through these woods. He watched her regain her composure and stand up from her place under the oak tree.
"My lord! Come away from that tree, my lord! We need to leave!" There, by a pair of horses, stood a very tall man with one arm. He had long pale hair and fair skin, looking almost snowy in his appearance as well as rather feminine. But for all that feminine grace he seemed to possess Cuchulainn could still tell he was a man and very pretty man at that.
The young woman brushed off her trousers and boots before brushing off her cloak and tunic. When she finally spoke she only said one word before she turned away and walked to the man holding the horses ready for the two of them. "Arturia."
So, Cuchulainn watched as Arturia and the one armed man rode off through the old forest road to the light at the edge of it. He watched until they disappeared from sight and lay back under the tree as he had wanted to do before seeing her there. There, he silently hummed a tune that seemed to come from the wind itself before saying her name to it.
The tree still stood silently from the last time Cuchulainn had visited it and he did find Arturia underneath it as he had the last time, but he found things far different than the time before when he had met her the first time. The one armed man was kneeling over her and he was removing blood stained armor from her body. Not far off, he could smell the stench of a battle field. In the distance, he could see the bodies littering the ground like so much waste.
He moved closer to see that same jewel blue tunic and cloak trimmed in gold, but now they were stained red with her blood. The white shirt underneath was dirty from dirt and sweat. The one armed man was crying silently as he gazed at his fallen king as Cuchulainn gazed at her sadly. Her gold hair which had been pulled back in that tightly braided circle behind her head was now down and around her shoulders.
"My king," said the one armed man softly, "I took the sword to the lady in the lake as you asked of me."
Arturia eyed him carefully and shook her head. "No, you have not. Please don't make me ask again. Take the sword to the lady."
Bedivere nodded and stood up before getting up on his horse and riding off as fast as he could. Cuchulainn watched with mild irritation at the man for not following Arturia's orders as she had clearly bade him do before, but his attention was soon taken by her bruised and broken body lying on the ground and slowly dying. He crouched down by her side and stroked her hair from her face gently, his hand almost going through her.
"Arturia," he said softly, "What forced this sort of death upon you?"
She opened her eyes slowly and looked up at him, smiling faintly. "The impetuous spirit," she said; her voice soft as she spoke. "I thought you said you would come back to the tree. I waited so many times for you to appear..."
He smiled faintly, though a bit strained. "I am dead, remember? I lose track of time easily in what you Christians call heaven."
"I can see you this time, spirit," she said. "I gave you my name long ago, but you never gave me your name. Would you give it to me now before I depart for heaven?"
"So you might see my wife and tell her of how I tormented you that one time?" He laughed, but his heart was not in it this moment.
"So, you have a wife and you flirt behind her back? You're worse than my nephew Gawain or my knight Lancelot." A look of pain shot across her features and she looked away from him. "Lancelot… he is one of the few of my knights living still. I can only hope my queen will be happy with him now as I was unable to make her as her king."
Cuchulainn gazed at her gently and continued to stroke her cheek absently, though he was certain she could no longer feel it or the chill of his ghostly fingers. "You married even though you are a woman to uphold your image as a man?" He shook his head and sighed. "You are very stubborn aren't you."
"You still have not given me your name, spirit," she said. She coughed and blood came up out of her mouth. She swallowed and leaned her head back against the trunk of the oak tree before she looked to Cuchulainn again with those clear blue-green eyes.
"Cuchulainn," he said, his voice little more than a whisper. "My name is Cuchulainn."
"A heroic spirit is what greets me?" she said softly. She gazed at him hard for a moment before smiling with the faintest of smiles, but her whole face seemed to light up with it. It made her look like the woman he knew her to be instead of the king she seemed to feel she was. "I am honored to meet the heroic spirit Cuchulainn… and you are right. You are a handsome dog."
He watched as she reached a naked hand up to his face and felt the barest brush of her fingertips on his cheek. He had a strange feeling beginning to bud within him that he had only felt a few times before when he was alive and it began to pain him to see this bizarre woman who pretended to be a man die without having lived like women dreamed of living, without a family and passing her life on through her children. When Bedivere finally rode up to them both and dismounted, Cuchulainn could already feel the life starting to truly leave her body.
"My king. I have done as you asked. I am so sorry for not doing as you bid. Forgive me," he said quickly, kneeling before her and bowing his head to her. "Please."
"I forgive you, Bedivere," she said. "Thank you."
"My king, what more do you bid of me?" he asked.
"To take care of my kingdom—you and the other knights—take care of the kingdom as I would have done." She smiled faintly and relaxed a bit more. "I can only hope that someone better can rule this land than I."
Bedivere took her hand and spoke in heated tones as he trembled with the force of the tears flooding his blue eyes. "You were a great king, your highness. No matter what problem arose, you were always there and did your best." This man had clearly loved his king more than any other and now felt the passing of her far deeper than any other.
"He speaks sense, little king," said Cuchulainn softly. He watched her look up at him, however, instead of Bedivere and he smiled to her gently. "Go," he said. Then, her eyes closed slowly and she finally relaxed against the tree, a small smile still across her face though she was gone.
Bedivere and Cuchulainn stayed near her body, though Bedivere clearly couldn't see him. Cuchulainn knew she had moved on, but stayed close to see how Bedivere would treat her remains. After a while, the knight stood up and took her body with him, leaving the tree without a second glance. It was then and only then that he moved away from that tree and back to heaven where his dear Emer waited for him.