October 31

Ulster Underground

To Whomever May Find This,

You might find this letter strange. I know not how it will be received or even believed for the whole notion is unbelievable to me and only a theory. I will know in time whether my faith in this has been misplaced. You will have found this notation, but I wish for you to tell me where you find it when you write me back. For myself, on my end, I will have put this letter in a metal container and have put the container in the unused cellar of an old castle our tunnels connect to. They say that this castle was once a wizard's home and the cellar retains some of his old magic still, even to cross entire worlds. This is where I found this metal container, but I digress. When you finish your letter to me, put it into the same canister and set it down someplace safe and check it after a week. If there is no reply from me immediately, check on the same day at the same time every single week until you get a reply from me. I am afraid I will have to have to dictate these letters as I do not know how to read or write and will have to have someone read them for me and write them for me. At least for now. I fully intend to learn so that I might enjoy these privately sooner or later.

As for who I am…

My name is Cuchulainn. I was born in the Ulster Underground where my people have lived since just before my birth. It was built by the great God of Light's brother, the God of Dark. He had an affair with my mother that resulted in me before his brother might lay a claim on my mother, which angered and infuriated the God of Light terribly that he punished all humans and anything man-made to perish in the light of the sun.

I once saw the power of the light of the sun when I was a small boy, no more than five years old. I had wandered away from my mother and explored the passage to the top ground that we were forbidden from using. The tunnel that we were forbidden to using except in rare occasions was a long one and ended at a set of stairs that were covered with a metal door with charms written on it. I remember distinctly walking up those stairs, through the door and walking right up into some sort of library. It was a vast place with many books on blackened shelves. There was a blackened desk and there was soot all over the floor.

I walked to the shelves and, at this point I was just learning to read a little from the wizards, touched the books on the shelves. They were crumbling under my hands from being heated too much too often. However, despite the advanced stage of decomposition the books were in I was able to open at least one of them and look into it. I couldn't read it very well, because the letters were faded and the handwriting was scrawling too wildly to be able to read it properly. (Oh fuck, I have a feeling the scribe is being too proper in how he's writing. Oh well, I guess it can't be helped. And yes, I forced him to write this bit to explain myself.)

I did not notice the sun rising up over the hills. I noticed, however, that the room was becoming very hot and I was beginning to sweat. It felt like an oven inside that room and the sun had not even come up half way. When I finally noticed the sun my first thought wasn't to run, but to stare at the beautiful oranges and pinks in the sky as it rose. I had never seen the sun rise before then and so it stunned me. Then, the room burst into flame and fear rose up in my body. All around me was fire. The floor was burning into my sandals, though the leather of the soles protected my feet from the heat of the burning rock for the moment, and was slowly starting to glow from the heat. I had to get out, but the heat was starting to get to me and make me dizzy, as was the smoke. I stumbled and fell onto the heated floor and searing pain shot through me as my skin melted against it where I touched the floor on my arms, hands and shins.

I got up as well as I could and staggered with bleeding, broiled arms to the doorway leading to the stairs. I tried to walk down them, but the heat and the pain was too much. I tripped and fell as the sun continued to rise and the stones grew hotter under my feet. The stair well remained cooler for the moment as I hit the stairs and rolled to a stop on the landing below. My mother ran up and collected me into her arms, pulling me out of the stairwell quickly.

After the event I was given to the wizard healers to deal with. Their magic healed my wounds, but they couldn't restore feeling just yet. Even now, seven years later, I'm still undergoing these healing appointments where they attempt to reestablish the feeling back into my scarred arms and shins. It's not as bad as it used to be, of course. Now I can feel almost as well as anyone else. Some places are still a little numb, but most of it isn't. They can't rid me of the scars either, though they've lessened since that day with some help from the wizards.

I am a soldier in the king's army. I joined the boy corps a year after the incident in the castle, though they wouldn't take me at first. They said I was far too young to join. The boys didn't like me trying to get in without asking for their protection, as is customary among them apparently, so they ganged up on me. I have a sort of berserk state I go into without thinking sometimes when the battle gets to me. I have more control over it now than I did back then, but it is still hard to control now. I change, though I don't know what I change into. I've been told I resemble a great big dog like man-beast when I change. The children triggered that berserk state when they attacked me and I tossed them back harshly.

"You're supposed to ask for our protection!" they cried at me after I had tossed them. "It is our way! We all do that so that we may all protect one another and rely on one another!"

"Then, ask for my protection and I will ask for yours!" I shouted at them.

The children did as I had said and I did as they bade me to. In the end the mess was sorted out and the men who taught us to fight were so impressed by my abilities that they took me in.

As a child I was always far too small for my age, short and skinny, but I've always been told I have the most handsome face they have ever come across, even when I was a young boy. My hair is cropped on top and long on the back, which I keep in a ponytail at the back of my head, and pitch black. I've been told I look far paler than the rest of the people, but we all are very pale. Only the older folks who used to live above ground were tanned. And my eyes? I've been told on more than one occasion my eyes look like the devil's; they are bright red and bigger than everyone else's eyes. (Please note he means the iris of the eye and not the actual eye socket. Cuchulainn's a damned fool and needs to study.)

When the wizards taught us about simple magic and studies of the world outside of the Underground I wanted to know what else could be out there. However, that would have to wait. At this time, before the age of eight, I had been known as Setanta. When I was playing a particularly good game with the older boys, one of my foster fathers, the king, came out and congratulated me on how well I bested the boys at the game. (This game requires I use a curved stick of sorts to play, just so you know. This little fact becomes essential later.) He invited me to eat at the main hall with the men and I accepted, but of course I wanted to finish giving the boys a good walloping at the game, so I had asked him to wait a while for my appearance. He accepted this and went on merrily.

He apparently forgot, however, that I was meant to join his table and allowed his best smithy to let out his guard dog. I had not known of this, of course, since I was walking to the main hall via the tunnels underground. (We can go topside when the moon is up, thankfully, or else we would have died from starvation. For some reason the Earth still provides us with vegetation and the animals are unaffected by the sun's light; it is only humans who are cursed and not the creatures of the Earth. I know not if all humans are affected thusly or just the ones in Ulster.)

I first heard the howl when I neared close enough to the main hall. I thought at first the dog simply wanted out, but it soon grew apparent that that was not the case at all. When I saw the dog, his teeth bared and mouth snarling at me, his eyes ablaze with the hunt and his fur sticking up in a line along the ridge of his spine, I stood stock still in a panic while I tried to come up with a way of escaping getting killed. The large hound leaped at me and the only thing I could think was to grab my stick and hit the dog as hard as possible with it. I slammed my stick into the dog's head and slammed the dog's head right into the wall beside me. The effect crushed the dog's skull, spraying on me his blood.

My heart racing, I stared at what I had done. I had never meant to kill the beast, but it was either that or I should die and I like living. The king and the smithy were among the men that ran out to me, my foster father Conochbar knelt down to me and brushed my hair from my pale face, wiped some of the dog's blood from my cheek and looked me over carefully. I couldn't pull my eyes away from the dog or the smithy crying over the body of his dear pet.

"Child, are you all right?" asked Conochbar to me in as gentle a voice as he could manage. I could not answer him right away. How could I? I felt as though time had slowed down and everything around me was moving far faster than what I was experiencing. When I finally looked to my foster father Conochbar I nodded to him. He smiled and patted me on the head before looking to the smithy.

"Culainn, you'll get a new dog soon. I'll make certain of it," said Conochbar.

Then, I spoke up, my voice stiff. "Smithy Culainn," I said, "While nothing can fully replace such an excellent guard dog, would you please allow me to be your guard dog while another is raised up for you?"

Smithy Culainn stared at me in puzzlement. I don't blame him, but at the time it seemed like a perfectly fine solution and, even now, I don't regret one bit of it ever. When he smiled at me and chuckled I knew it would be all right. "You're a damned bizarre little brat, aren't you?" he said. "Yes, of course you can be my guard dog, young Setanta."

And so I began spending my time as both in the boy corps and a guard dog for Smithy Culainn. In Ulster and the other Irish lands "cu" means dog. Well, that is what they started calling me after playing the part of a guard dog for a week. I didn't mind, especially since the one of the boy corps teachers decided to start calling me "Cu Chulainn", or "Culainn's Dog", and said that would be my name from then on. I like it and don't mind it one bit. The dog, when it was finally raised up, took my place and I could go on to other things, but I've been forever named Cuchulainn because of that incident.

Since that time I've learned to fight like the rest of the boys around here. I'm only twelve right now, but who knows when you, reader who finds this note, will find this. I could be thirty by the time you write back to me, though I doubt I will live as long. I've been told I will likely die young because I've taken the path of a hero and a soldier. My other foster father, my favorite, though not always, Fergus Mac Roich has gone rogue with several of his men in my short life time and moved to Connacht where I hear he's become a lover of the queen. I wish him well, though Connacht is against Ulster for territorial reasons and old ills. An upside, though, is that if I am older when you write back to me I will have finally learned to read and write. Then, I'll be able to read your letter to me without the need for someone to help me and write back in my own words. The scribe assures me, for now, that he isn't trying to correct my speech any.

Waiting with a lot of hope,

Cuchulainn