Title: Darkness Rises From the Deep 02
Rating: M - Violence
Disclaimer: Me no own, you no sue
AN: Okay, this setting, Saorlaith, and this version of Nuada come from Juliette Louise. They can be found here: Fear Me and Fear Her. This fic would not exist if it was not for her putting ideas in my head. I gained permission from the kind Juliette Louise to play in her sandbox, and this story is going to disregard the events of Fear Her, relying solely upon Fear Me, thus meaning it will diverge vastly. In the end though, I urge you to go read, and for heavens' sake, review, Juliette Louise, pester her until she actually you know, hops to it! And yes, she's posted a new chapter to Thick As Thieves.
Some continuity notes. For those who know me well, they know what an anal retentive bastard/bitch I can be about things pertaining to physical/magical/'historical' mechanics. (Do not get me started on Balor being Nuada and Nuala's father, and him having a silver/mechanical arm. For fuck's sake, Nuada is Nuada Airgetlám = Silverfist/arm dammit!) But yes, back to mechanics. I have now seen a very gloriously horrendously accurate and detailed copy of Hellboy II. Nuada? He's not white. He's speckled. Like an egg, while Nuala's smooth-toned. And also - yes, Luke Goss? He's hairy. We're talkin' hair on the tops of his hands, and fur on the forearms, and I'm fairly sure he manscapes that chest so that there's only a bit of hair rather than a pelt. Now, in most copies of the movie (big screen, DVD, whatever) it always looked as though it'd been smoothed down. Well, thank you ever so fucking much BlueRay for showing me that 1 - Nuada's got a yellow complexion like sulfur-y granite and marble had a baby in secret that was then sprayed down with moist potting soil, 2 - that his irises are red shot not black shot and also the 'whites' are red too!, 3 - that he'shairy, and no, I don't mean some 'blond/white' fuzz - it's nearly brown (much like his natural and un-spray-painted body hair! T_T This is my annoyed unimpressed face by the way. Do you understand that now I have to go and change things? Yes. I do. Plus there's the mechanics instilled that I have to stick to for JL's stuff - which is fine by me, except where it clashes with movie stuff in terms of body temp. As an example, Nuada's able to pick up the red-hot metal cylinder. And if he was cold, the cylinder would've steamed out the yin-yang. Well it doesn't. In fact, he doesn't react, and the metal doesn't react, or dim. So he can't be cold. He'd have to be salamander skinned or completely temp neutral. But, whatever. The temp thing I've got a use for, so well, whatever, fuck it. But Briala and Janni know my pain of my brain doing all sorts of mental contortions to find logic for these things. :grumblesnazzlefrass:
Also, this chapter we finally see some of Saorlaith getting a bit of spine, and Nuada not being a total stern buttmunch. I mean, there's got to be some give on each side. Also, I'd say early spring is when Saorlaith was taken, and now it's midsummer possibly, I've not figured out the exact month-to-month basis yet. However, Nuada's got a whole planet to patrol, and yes, they have magical means (which would make sense, as helloooo how did Nuada and Nuala wind up in Ireland from New York otherwise?) of getting place to place, but he would have to patrol in person frequently whenever the smaller bands found evidence of larger quantities of humans to deal with. So, there's plenty of stretches of time when he's gone for weeks, rather than just days, sometimes even a month.
Reading outside by the light of several glowing globes, Saorlaith quietly enjoyed the night scents, sounds and visions. She wasn't entirely sure how, but her time under Rhiana's tutelage had progressed and widened her knowledge of the world - Seen and Unseen - by leaps and bounds. Sometimes it was as though she were clay upon a turning wheel, some potter's hand coaxing her into a shape not originally her own. At least, not entirely her own. Or perhaps she was the potter, shaping her own clay while under someone else's guidance rather than control.
The Golden Army was in the field, and Nuada with it. She tried not to worry even if for some inexplicable reason she did, so found herself frequently pacing gardens or the battlements of the castle. It was made of wood and stone, seemingly sprouting up from the very earth itself, to form huge walls, with barely any space between the stones for mortar. Like everything the Unseen reshaped into their image during the reclamation of the world from humans, the castle was a model of efficiency and natural beauty. Saorlaith had very little more than a few descriptions of the world of man to go by, so could only imagine monolithic structures of metal and glass as broken shards of pain and ugliness.
Laying a hand on the stone bench she sat upon, she frowned out into the distance, the book now sitting in her lap. It did no good, the examination of her surroundings, something in her pulse tripped with fear for the avenger of the hidden and magical creatures whenever he was gone. Saorlaith swallowed the sour taste that flooded her mouth at the memory of golden blood darkening to black. The bullets that the physician Cliareach had dug free of Nuada's muscles were foul, pitted things. And she kept them close, in a small silken pouch that was tucked behind the belt that bound her dress to her waist. It was a reminder that even a man of his ilk could be laid low by something small and that just as Nuada could fall, so too would she. Her will to survive had wakened, and yet she did not directly fear for herself, but more for the fact that the world would be a poor place indeed without the Unseen for reasons she didn't entirely understand.
Not that she wanted Nuada and the Unseen's rage to wipe her own kind from the world either. Such a holocaust seemed wrong as well. Yet, what could she do about it? Saorlaith was aware that all she was, was a woman who was not intended to be much more than a plaything for the elven Prince's amusement. Even if Nuada never seemed much amused by her. At times, it was more like he was...confused...by her.
Touching the faint shape of the pouch, Saorlaith forced her frown to still, reminding herself that there were things she could do. No matter how small, she had some effect. With her own hands she had bathed him, had changed bandages, fed and clothed him. The sweat of his brow bought her the safety, comfort and warmth of his bed, the security of the interwoven threads of scent and that pulling thing that whispered that she belonged to something. Not as a possession, but that she filled a space, no matter how small and insignificant. Shuddering at that rush of certainty, she turned away from staring out into the forest, returning to her reading.
Two men came - a soldier and what she assumed was the captain of the guard, though she did not recognize him, interrupting her reading, surprising her as they put fist to chest as they bowed. It was an odd thing, as the servants and guards paid her little to no mind except when absolutely necessary. And never had any of them bowed, unless she was making a request upon Nuada's behalf. To them she was as insignificant as they were silently distant to her.
Cocking her head, Saorlaith stared at the impressively armoured guard a moment, unsure of what it was he wanted. "Yes?"
"This scout brings news from the battlefield, my lady." Silver armor, but mostly golden hair was braided away from his face, his helmet tucked under one arm, his eyes still locked on the ground at her feet.
"News? What sort of news? Is the Prince hurt?" straightening, Saorlaith set her book aside completely, hands clasped in her lap, trying not to reveal her alarm, as her gaze swung quickly to the other Unseen in expectation.
And still he remained bowed as he spoke, "Scouts from the field spied a large group of humans breaking off from the main battle." When she was unable to formulate a response, the soldier elaborated, "They aim towards the castle, my lady."
Drawing in a shuddering breath, she stood slowly from the bench, unsure of why they were even telling herthese things. "Is there some way to...repel them?"
The one in particularly elaborate guard's garb glanced up at her, "M'lady, we have some number of fighters here. But not many. May I make a suggestion?"
Waving a hand at them both, "Please, I know little of these...matters. Suggestions would be more than welcome, for I know nothing of warfare. I would defer to your experience and knowledge in this, as I've no knowledge of why you might come to me for those weighty matters." Noting how they continued to even stillremain bowed, "Please, will you rise?"
The older elf shared a quick glance with the soldier, before looking up at her. "My lady," the guard captain straightened instead of answering her implied question, "the castle is defensible. And we will defend it, but our numbers will not last if stretched thin on the outermost walls. Withdrawing to the interior fort will work best."
"Then that is what we will have to do," Saorlaith scooped up the precious and rare book in one hand, and stepped quickly to keep pace with the captain. A thought occurred, no less alarming than if something had happened to Nuada. "What of women and children? Are they all within an area that we can call them to safety?"
This time the scout spoke, "Most, yes. Those that are not, my lady, are doubtless scattering in other directions."
Saorlaith was not quite ushered, but almost, into a large room she had never been in, with a wooden throne, and a dais before it.
The guard captain turned to the scout. "Oisin, you will personally protect the Prince's lady. Take her to the interior."
"Aye," the young scout snapped off a short, smart bow.
"My lady, I must see to the defenses now, by your leave," and she received a much deeper, but no less perfectly executed bow.
"Yes, thank you, please, do," murmuring as she strove to contain any shivering, half in shock and entirely overwhelmed but she did her best to remain outwardly calm at least a little bit.
With that, the captain was gone.
Oisin's shadowed eyes and black lips were familiar, the deep saffron yellow of black-shot irises surrounded by dark red, but his features were not. There were no scars, no gray and brown speckled weathering, just a perfectly smooth, expressionless white face without even the evidence of shaving. He was so young that there was not even a wisp of silver in his hair, and while he was muscularly lean, it didn't have that tautness that bespoke years of hardened fighting.
And he was taking her to a place she didn't know.
Tucking away her discomfort and nervousness, Saorlaith gathered her nerve. "Was Rhiana informed of the situation?"
Oisin cast her a quick glance, "No, my lady. Captain Lorcan said she could not be found."
"Oh," absorbing that information slowly. "I hope she will be safe."
The young scout's second glance was longer and startled. "I'm sure she will be. She is very wise and would not easily succumb to human scum." It was then that he flushed, and it was odd indeed to see an unaroused Unseen man with color in his cheeks. "No disrespect, my lady."
Releasing a soft, surprised laugh - more at his obvious distressed embarrassment than humor at his statement, "I'm sure that's all we are to you. Peace - I think I understand what you meant."
Suddenly they were outdoors, and she realized that there were two castles, not one. A flat garden spanned between the two, flower and vegetable beds in neat rows that did not rise past her ankles, cut through with paths leading to the smaller, interior fort. Beside her, Oisin tensed, and she couldn't see why, only noticed how he moved to walk ahead slightly, a hand on the hilt of his sword.
Then she heard it.
The sharp pop-pop of a gun. A loud cry. Pained, frightened. What was more, she then heard the squall of a child, followed by a particularly ugly laugh. Even though Oisin reached out to snag her arm, Saorlaith found her feet taking her rapidly in the direction of the shots. Gathering her skirts up in one hand as she dropped the book, years of running and hiding came to her in a moment, and she moved swiftly as though it were her own life threatened.
"Hey - it's one of their women!" gruff, harsh and frightening.
Veritably flying past them, she saw the twisted shape of a fallen body - a goblin. Hideous as they were, Saorlaith found herself not repulsed but sad. But it was the small child, crying and keening with fear by the body of what she could only assume was the child's parent, pushing at the never to rise again corpse, that nearly moved her to tears. Scooping the child up, she turned, holding the little one pressed close to her and backed away from the human men who were pointing at her, elbowing at each other as they laughed.
"She's a tasty one, ain't she?" accompanied by a guffaw, a ragged, bearded human approached, hitching at his pants. "Got magic on you girl, make you hot, huh? Well, I got somethin' to make you hot..."
Saorlaith shuddered, her skin crawling, "Get away. Go. Leave. Never come back." They were still of her race, she felt she had to do that much. That and she didn't know how she would fend them off by herself. "You don't belong here. You'll be killed."
More laughter, disgusting, angry. Racial hatred burned in them, and while she knew, understood intimately that they were fighting for species survival in that place, she hated them. Despised them. Wanted them dead for what they threatened to do, and what they had done already.
The one farthest from her opened his mouth to speak, but all that came out was blood. Flinching, Saorlaith cupped the child's head, tucking it into her neck so it would not see the butchery that happened nearly so fast she couldn't follow it. Oisin's blade wrenched from the second, and dove straight into the third, the whirling of the silver blade flinging and shedding blood as it spun in his hand, and the meaty thwack of bodies collapsing to the ground was sickening.
The elven scout turned to her, holding out a hand, "Lady, we must be away! They have entered the grounds somehow, it is not safe here!"
Barely noticing the blood on his hand, she took it, allowing him to tug her along through the halls. "How could they have gotten in?"
Osin shook his head once, "There are old tunnels made by man, called sewers. But they're guarded by the goblin clans..."
"Not anymore," she whispered, knowing it was likely that if the humans had entered the grounds from such a route that any resistance would have been removed first and foremost. In her arms the child was mewling to itself quietly, and Saorlaith squeezed him or her - she didn't know which - closer, "Shh. I'll protect you small one."
A string of words in the Unseen language too fast for her to even attempt to follow burst from Oisin as they entered the interior fort. Blood - gold and red - was on the floor. And bodies. Several humans, and the shattered remnants of an Unseen. The scout dropped her hand, bending to pick up a second sword, and Saorlaith grabbed a clunky firearm, but its handle was sticky with blood, the sensation making her nauseous. Even so, she took it as she swallowed her rising gorge.
Oisin was scanning and listening his head swinging this way and that, his hair coming unbound from the braids that held it back, his helmet long discarded. He turned to the large doors they had entered through. "I must bar these. Perhaps buy some time."
"But how did they get in?" Saorlaith helped him as she could, lending what strength she could without setting the small one down. "Tunnels, I know, that's what you said. But where are they? Barring these doors only keeps them from one way of getting in."
Oisin grunted as he slammed the large beam that was meant to act as a lock into position. "There are holes and ladders that lead down. Stairs and bolt-holes."
"Shouldn't we bar those too?" following, the child in one arm, the gun in the other hand.
There was some hesitation, and his black lips pulled tight as he pursed them, digging gouges around his mouth. "There would be fighting, my lady. It would be unwise to take you there. A scout and a woman with a child in her arms will do nothing but die."
"But if we do nothing, then it won't matter!" Saorlaith glanced around them, indicating the bodies at their feet. "We...we could throw exploding cocktails, anyone in the room would flee. And then we could block the area off. No more invaders will get in from any place we seal off. Isn't it better to take that chance than to allow more to come?"
She watched as he took a moment, and he looked very young as he began to nod slowly. "It's...true, my lady. But I don't have the power to make things...explode. I am...young. I can light a wick, or make myself blend in. But that is all."
"You can make a small flame? You would be able to light a rag on fire then?" hope soared at that admission. "Where can we find bottles - bottles of alcohol? And rags? I know how to make exploding cocktails, we used to throw them to blind your kind so we could flee."
"The kitchens," his yellow eyes widened. "And we can gather any others we come across!"
Once more Oisin took the lead, but his steps had turn cautious. Several times he gestured for her to hide while he went around a corner and disappeared for short minutes that lasted lifetimes, only to return, with more fresh splatters of blood on his armor and skin, until Saorlaith no longer paid it any mind. Why bother? It served no purpose to stare and wonder if there was more than there had been earlier. The entire time she held the little goblin to her, whispering or humming to it softly as to any other type of babe. The mottled brown and green skin ceased being odd, and became simply the flesh the wispy haired body had. And the sharp and crooked teeth, nothing more than the toothiness of any child. She did try to smile at it from time to time when she caught the child staring up at her with cross shaped pupils with orange irises, but that only garnered a tiny mewl and the face tucking in once more to her shoulder. Finally they reached the kitchens. Human women were huddled quietly in corners, most dressed simply but still finely.
They shuddered at the sight of Oisin, flinching away from his bloodied form, but Saorlaith stepped around him. "The castle is under attack, it must be defended."
Nervous glances met her gaze, and one spoke up. "We're slaves. You'd have us fight on their side?"
"Have you gone hungry?" Looking at each of them, she tried to appeal to her fellow human women. "Have you been horribly raped by these men? Have you been frozen cold whenever you seek sleep? Have you baked in the heat, praying for a breeze as you feel you'll die from the stifling air? Do you fear that blades will come and destroy your life? Or have you been fed, clothed, housed, and protected?" Saorlaith saw their fear, and tried to address it. "Yes, you work, you earn your keep - don't you? And we're slaves, I know. But when have they harmed us? I've dealt with worse at the hands of our own men. Beatings, starving, and the constant threat of rape. I would rather gain something for what is taken, than be given nothing. Wouldn't you?"
"They will do nothing, they are too afraid," Oisin's voice was low, barely carrying. "We'd best see to what we can do without them."
Sighing, Saorlaith gave up, turning to rummage one-handed for a basket, as Oisin gathered up bottles of the strong Unseen wine and spirits. First one woman, then another, and then another came to help, silent and nervous, but they all knew how to make the blinding cocktails. It was simple survival tactics - it was hard to kill an Unseen without preparation and proper arms, but temporarily blinding them so as to get free? Simple, very simple. All told, out of the twenty women, only six aided them, the rest burrowed deeper in their hiding spots. She hoped for their sakes that none of their own, human kind found them.
Grunts, growls and near-howls came from a long corridor after she and the others had closed every entrance to the sewers and outside they could easily reach. Oisin had said it lead to some of the innermost 'safe' rooms. The corridors created bottlenecks he said, defensible positions that could be held by only a few against a much greater number. The baskets of explosive cocktails were nearly exhausted, and Saorlaith bit her lip as Oisin gestured for her and the other women to press back, close to the walls.
"Wait until I am in position here, and give me one of those cocktails, I will create a diversion, and attempt to draw them away," his head dipped down as he relayed his plan. "Then you will go to the interior, any fighters there should know you for who you are. If not, declare yourself."
Before she could stop him, Oisin was gone. Behind her the women shuddered, she could feel it like a ripple in her own flesh. Without the scout, they had no weapons beyond her gun, and a few of the bottles. But that was a mere handful of nearly useless items. There came the expected explosion and flash of light, and Saorlaith gripped the goblin child to her even tighter. Even though the little one had stopped flinching or crying out when one of the flaming glass bottles burst, spreading flame before it quickly burned itself out, she still hugged him close. There was a shout, and what was barely recognizable as Oisin's voice taunting came. Peeking around the corner, Saorlaith saw a handful of humans whirl and chase after the soldier as he drew attention away. Reaching back, she took one woman's hand, and pulled her to follow.
They raced to the hall that would lead them to the inner rooms, and protection. A blood coated Unseen guard, raised his sword as they approached, then drove past their little line, shoving them behind him. He called out in the Unseen's sibilant language, and another pair of guards came, herding Saorlaith and the six women farther in as they protected the retreat.
Upon entering the vestibule, what greeted Saorlaith was a scene of horror. Golden blood was everywhere, and ichor from a handful of trolls and goblins. Some shattered remnants of what had once been Unseen, but mostly men, and silently frightened women and a frighteningly few amount of children, filled the room. A beleaguered Lorcan was directing the Unseen to switch out in short, five to ten minute intervals to keep the bottleneck of corridors that lead to the intersection defended. His helmet was battered, and she noted how half of his armor had been removed, thick rags binding wounds.
Waiting until he had a moment to pause, Saorlaith moved to stand before him. "Captain -"
"Thank the gods, you got here safely. " His gaze skipped beyond her and around the room, alighting on the human women behind her and the goblin child in her arms. "Where is Oisin?"
"He drew away the humans in the hall so that we could get here," Saorlaith explained. "We closed off all the tunnel entrances we could find."
Lorcan's expression sharpened, "That was quick thinking you both did, my lady. Perhaps that will be enough to keep us from being purely overwhelmed, and give us time until His Highness arrives."
Her arms and the front of her dress were drenched. Stiff and sticky, the impromptu clinic in the vestibule was where all Unseen were brought from the battle. Nuada had come, a party of a mere forty warriors had struck like avenging spirits at the upstart trespass of humans in the sanctum of the Unseen's castle. Someone had found Oisin and brought him to the vestibule cum clinic, and Saorlaith was busily mopping blood from his torso so that Cliareach could continue laying neat stitches over the gaping wounds there. She was inordinately relieved that the young scout would survive - else he would already be broken remains.
"Lady Saorlaith," a shaking hand grasped hers and she could see how very young he was. "Lady Saorlaith, if they make a song about this - make sure that I sound heroic."
Smiling at him, she sponged more of his blood from his side. "Of course you'll sound very heroic. But you'll be around to make doubly sure that they get it right." Taking a quick glance around, she noted that Oisin was not the only guard who was so very, very young. Seeking to distract him, Saorlaith kept him talking. "A rousing story of a young scout and a handful of slaves sealing off doors to buy time for the rest of the castle against an invasion - and risking himself to see those same slaves to safety..."
"Not bad for a youth of forty-seven," Cliareach said firmly. "A boy, a handful of women, and a besieged castle, who knew that those three things could get along so well?"
Osin grinned gamely, laughing before having to stop as he winced in obvious agony. "I'm a man now - not a boy! I'm fully blooded!"
Not showing her shock, or at least she hoped she wasn't showing it, "Forty-seven? How old is that in terms of your kind...?"
Cliareach gave her an even look as his nimble fingers continued their work. "For the first fifty years of a lifespan we grow quickly, but not as quick as a human. He has another growth spurt waiting in the wings I would guess."
Scanning the room once more, comparing the guards and soldiers to Oisin, Saorlaith was disquieted. "And how old are they do you think?"
"They range mostly from fifty to seventy," the physician shrugged.
"You have to be eighty at least to join the main ranks," Oisin explained. "But I'm fast, and I have sharp eyes. His Highness said because of that, I could join the scouts early," he said it with such glowing pride that Saorlaith wanted to be ill.
Beside her, the little goblin toddler seemed to sense her upset, and pressed his face to her hip. Taking a moment to pet him, she gave him a soft smile and gained a toothy one in reply finally. At some point Rhiana and several other old ones had come, just when Saorlaith thought that all would be lost, their glamours and magics stemming the tide, until finally Nuada's presence had been shown. At the moment, the Prince was overseeing the clearing of the castle's halls, and tightening of all entrances to the tunnels below.
Once she was sure Oisin would keep, she moved with Cliareach to the next, and then the next, and then the next. She was exhausted, but still summoned up the strength to continue assisting in her small way, just as the other women did. The constant bustle and movement receded from her attention, focusing on each soldier or guard under her hands, or taking a moment to change the little goblin's soiled diaper or give water to the thirsty.
A cold hand came out at some point, tugging her to stand and Saorlaith swayed, then was steadied. "Saorlaith, come now, it is time for you to return to my rooms. The castle has been secured."
Blinking and clearing the fog from her mind as she was pulled beyond an exit of the vestibule, Saorlaith dug her feet in. "There's wounded to tend."
"They are being tended by others," Nuada turned, stopping as his expression became stern. "You've done more than enough."
"No, no I haven't," she stated evenly. "Those boys need someone to keep them talking, and to clean them up, and to help."
"Those 'boys' are older than you, and trained fighters besides," she watched his lips purse as he spoke, the mottling on his face nearly indistinguishable from blood splatter and sweat.
Saorlaith pushed at her sticky sleeves, "They may be older than me, but they still look like twigs. Like boys! Because that's what they are."
"They are fighters, that is what they do." Low gravel, she saw him as though he were trying to be immovable as he spoke, but she didn't want to be moved, unable to see past what had to be done, uncaring for whatever racial differences there were between them. "Boy or not."
"You, you send those boys out to die!" snapping at him, remembering the way a young guard she hadn't known the name of giving up the struggle for survival against the mounting pain, had hardened and shattered under her very hands.
A muscle jumped along his jaw, "They are fighters, that is their place in life. If they die, then that too is their lot."
Saorlaith didn't flinch as her horror welled up and then went colder than his touch could ever be. There were broken, marble remains and scattered dust all through the halls. All of them not much more than children, even if they were older than her. They had died fighting to protect their home, and drive away a surprise force, armed with iron and steel weapons, poison that their young bodies held little hope of surviving. And Nuada had let them be fighters, had let them be guards - and by extension he had let them die.
Nearly of its own accord her hand, grimy with soured gold blood turned black from iron poisoning rose, lashed out and landing firmly against his cheek with shuddering force. "You are not a man, but just a construct like your despicable Golden Army." A perfect imprint of a bloody hand - the blood of his own people - remained. With that, she turned on her heel and stiffly walked back to the makeshift clinic to see if she could help any of the broken boys there.
Saorlaith was feeble with fatigue but found the strength to carry her young burden anyway. She had found someone who wasn't horribly busy - though they all were, but at least the Unseen woman hadn't been asbusy. It was with great relief that Saorlaith attained Nuada's quarters, a hand slipping into a belt pouch and pulling out the small glow ball Rhiana had given her, and she sighed in silent thanks. The woman she had asked to send some sort of crib for her little charge to sleep in to Nuada's rooms, had done so. Carefully she put the boy to bed, even though he woke a little, but she soothed him, humming softly to him until his bulbous eyes slid closed once more, then tucked the blanket up around him.
With that last duty discharged, Saorlaith couldn't even take the necessary steps to reach a couch, and slumped to the ground. Humans, her own kind, had done horrible things in their attack on the castle, killing indiscriminately, even the poor human women in the kitchen who had been disfigured by rape and rapid torture. Unseen had done terrible things, cutting down her people as they tried to flee flashing silver blades in the night, tearing down the great massive cities, and destroying those barely understood institutions called 'government'. Still, Unseen, goblin, and human, all people, had died that day. In pain, horrible, permanent deaths. She began to press a hand to her mouth until she smelled the cloying stink of blood that had been poorly rinsed away, and nearly gagged.
Muffling her whimper by exercising her will, Saorlaith sank forward until, still kneeling, her forehead touched the intricate rugs that lay strewn over the floor in the sitting area. A shudder rippled through her thin frame, and she shook as her world tilted on its axis. Back and forth, confusion, who was wrong, who was right, didn't really seem to matter anymore. All she wanted was for the blood to stop flowing - human, Unseen, goblin, mythical creature... It was all so needless, and inside she keened, though she dared not make a sound. To her very core, she was sickened, and could find no way to release it, numbness and fatigue and horror and nausea fighting to take over, with none of them winning in particular moment to moment.
She didn't hear the door open, she didn't hear it close either. Nor did she hear the pitcher and small wash basin being set down. Saorlaith didn't really notice anything as she was too focused on trying to hold the shattering pieces of her strength from falling away completely. What she did notice was strong hands propping her up. That those same strong hands were cool, but not when compared to her own that were for some reason like blocks of ice. Startlingly warm water and a soft cloth rubbed over the back of her hand where it rested in a white, white palm, cleaning away the gumminess.
Woodenly her head tilted back as her gaze moved up the length of arm, to the face there. Nuada was looking down, his eyes focused on the task of rubbing away dried grime from her hands. Time to time he would dip the cloth in the basin, wring it out with a deft flick, only to move to some other patch of skin. Eventually cool fingers took her chin in hand, coal-shot red-rimmed saffron paying attention to each smear or splatter.
He made a soft sound, then disappeared, shortly returning with fabric over his shoulder and a silver cup in one hand which he pressed to her, demanding that she drink. Unable to think of a reason to push away the offering, Saorlaith drank deeply, even the taste of thick and sweet wine muted. She felt so cold, but again she followed his silent direction as he pulled her to stand, pushing her dress and robe from her body, but she didn't shiver for very long. Some of the fabric was a heavy gown, she barely recognized it, couldn't think of the word for long moments even as she pushed her head through the neck, and arms through the holes. A cloak was then settled around her, unfamiliar - not hers - but from the scent that rose up from it as it enveloped her body, she knew that it was one of his. Closing her eyes, Saorlaith lifted one side of the heavy material, pressing her face into it and inhaling deeply. Senses filled with the crisp and muggy spiced smell of Unseen man, and its richness was unlike any other elf she had come across, something entirely Nuada to it. His scent overcame the one of spilt blood imprinted on her mind.
Warmth slowly seeped into her, starting from her nose with the swamping perfume of Nuada, then spread. Another cup of wine was pushed into her hands as she was guided to one of the couches, helping her to sit with sure grace. Gradually the fog receded and she was left drained, aware of herself finally. Twisting on the couch, Saorlaith drew her now bare feet under her, and the cloak tightly about her body as true shivering began.
"You should rest," his voice was soft, and she realized he sounded weary. "Once you are warm enough."
The Prince stood, his armour long since discarded, and she saw rents in the fabric of his tunic though it was obvious he had taken the time to clean himself well enough. He knelt so he could scoop up her witch globe, rolling the ball in his palm as she watched, then brought it and the flagon of wine back, to pour her a third cup, nearly to the brim. Carefully, Saorlaith sipped from it, staring at him over the rim. Nuada made a few passes over the glow ball, causing its color and brightness to change several times.
Warmer, but still shivering, the images still burned in her mind with an intensity she didn't understand. "Why employ boys to guard what you deem to be precious? Why not use the men of a decent age?"
Beside her Nuada stretched out an arm over the couch's back, his legs crossing at ankle-to-knee. "There are very few men of any fighting age remaining."
"What do you mean there are few remaining?" Saorlaith scanned over her memories, and found images of rank upon rank of armoured men on horses galloping through forests and over plains. "There are many left, I've seen them."
"Over four billion humans to a few million of the magical beings of the world. Can you conceive of those numbers Saorlaith? You humans breed so fast, and you may live short times, but my kind, my people, and the other beings, are like a small garden against an army of rabbits." Nuada released an exasperated grunt. "Expanding and breeding - all they lived for in the not so distant past was to eat, shit, breed and consume. We, the natural creatures, are nothing in numbers against that. It takes two years for a woman to give birth to one of my kind. Two years. And in that two years, a good deal of my soldiers fall, not to be replaced for nearly a hundred years. In that time how many humans will die, and how many will be replaced?"
She let him take the goblet from her as he took a long draught then refilled it before passing it back.
"If the gods are feeling particularly kind an individual may produce a child every century, but only with great effort and physical cost. Fertility does not come easily to my people." Nuada stood once more, moving quickly to change from his battered clothes to a loose pair of pants, his voice carrying to her. "My more experienced men, and therefor the ones least likely to die, are in the field with me. How then do I guard my castle if all my soldiers who are old enough - two, three hundred years old if I'm lucky to have men of that age to draw upon - what does this leave available? Boys. That is all. The poison in the air from your kind's factories and mines...it makes it even harder for us to have children to replace what is lost."
Shaking her head incredulously at him, for even she could see the problem with his logic, "Then you are risking the very future you're trying to save."
Nuada suddenly looked taxed, not just from a hard battle and march, but from much more, the weight of his people bearing down heavily. "You think I don't know that? Do you think that I send boys out into the field? I leave them here. It gives them experience, with less chance of dying. I can't leave our few women, and our even fewer children undefended, but I also cannot allow your kind to gather forces and strength!"
"How many other kinds are there then? Trolls, goblins - what else other than your Unseen?" searching for some answer to the problem, any solution to reduce the bloodshed.
A great sigh was heaved, as he paced close to 'her' toddler, his hands clasped behind his back. "Do you think I have full control over them? They have their own customs and rites. I can only command a certain amount of loyalty from a few of the clans. Not many, and due to this day's incursion, that number has been reduced."
Saorlaith was quiet as she thought it over. From what Rhiana had said, she knew that at one point that an Unseen ruler could call to arms any of the magical creatures. It happened rarely, but it had happened. And the Golden Army was created by the goblin mastersmith, so she well knew that goblins were long closely allied with the Unseen.
"What then can you do to get them to join you fully?" taking a longer sip of the potent wine that warmed her, making her bold, and drove her to question when paired with the day's events.
A long boned hand ran through his silver-gold hair, "An ard ri has the right to command and call all of the races in times of duress."
The answer was so obvious she couldn't help the fact that her tone took on a note that questioned his intelligence. "Then become whatever an ard ri is."
Black lips pulled into a tight frown, "I would have to be king first for that to have a chance of occurring."
Saorlaith was on her last nerve, feeling the effects of the strong drink, and gave up. "Then why are you a prince and not a king? Why are you wasting so much time? You may live forever - if someone doesn't fill you with iron shot - but your people will die in droves."
She knew then she had pushed him too far, as he snuffed her glow ball, and the chill of his face came close to hers as he hissed, "There are tactical issues with that, little girl. If you are done pretending you're aware at all of the situation, you should rest before you slide back into the stupor of full shock. Not that I would mind much at this point."
Stiffening as the same upwelling of iron resolve came over her, as it had right before she smacked him, "Well, enlighten me. I don't know everything, and I can't learn or understand if you don't explain it. If there's 'tactical issues' then tell me them! Don't just...just..." waving her hands in the dark, now that she was blind, Saorlaith stood up, swaying as drink and fatigue crashed in her skull making her dizzy. "Just tell me that it's beyond me or that I know nothing when you haven't even tried to help me understand."
Saorlaith knew she wasn't going to get an answer, and didn't particularly care. Plus, she was still tired. Turning in what she thought was a fairly steady fashion, she stumbled, only to be caught and hoisted up.
"Ah, apparently you are not a maudlin drunk," there was an audible smirk in Nuada's voice. "I should have guessed."
"I'm not drunk." Pushing at his shoulder, wanting to be put down, "I don't like you. You won't put me down, and you don't tell me things so I can understand. It's not like I don't want to know, you just... I'm not drunk."
"You have had almost four goblets of Unseen wine," there was a snort beside her head as she was carried to the bed. "And it is a wine potent enough to catch and hold a flame. You are quite in your cups. You can't even stand straight. And you're being belligerent. If you were in your normal state of mind, you would not dare to speak to me this way."
Saorlaith was deposited on the soft, warm bed and she rolled over, away from him, dragging the cloak along so she could wrap up in it and snuggle down. "The world is spinning."
"Because you are drunk," a push moved her more towards the center and his cold body stretched out beside her. "Now sleep, and hopefully your disposition will return to its relatively tolerable form after you have rested."