Krysila enlists the help of Leanan Sidhe to trap the brownies
|Framed against the churning of the waves was a sea cave. Its walls were a tumble of carved stone; the remains of the underground harbour of Velmoran piled where it fell during the kraken’s attack upon the stronghold of the brownies. A beautiful young sídhe swung from the cave ceiling, a rope twisted around her wrists.
Long had Leanan Sídhe hung there knowing that rescue was a fond dream. She consoled herself with talking to the gulls and watching the waves fold endlessly in on themselves. The undertow toyed with the skeletons of brownies dragged to a watery grave. She tried to picture their faces, their stories, and a strange fondness awoke in her. It was well that she was a goddess of inspiration, for she might have gone mad had she not imagined tales of the lives of the brownies.
‘My Lady, your mother wishes to see you.’ Vortimus’s voice shattered Leanan’s reverie and the terrible and fascinating depths became no more than a brackish inlet.
Leanan raised her chin haughtily, keeping her eyes averted. It was all the acknowledgment she gave but Vortimus took it for acquiescence. He left to tell her mother, the kraken Krysila, that she was ready to see her.
How she loathed Vortimus. Taking the handsome human changeling for her knight was a decision that she deeply regretted. He had accompanied the sidhé king Midhir as he journeyed to bring Leanan to Krysila in Velmoran. He said he stayed by Leanan to protect her, to plead with her mother, or to wait until an opportune moment came for them both to escape undetected. She saw now that he was too cowardly and greedy to help her. Self-seeking ambition fuelled the way he ingratiated himself to Krysila. Leanan was no more than a pawn. One day she would show him her true strength and pay him and her mother back for their ill-treatment of her.
Time slipped by and Krysila did not appear. Leanan’s thoughts began to wander as she gazed at the seabed. Her attention was broken from the half-smashed skull of a brownie girl never to grow into adulthood. She was sure there was someone behind her. She waited for the bracing updraft of a gust to twist her to face her mother.
‘Well, daughter?’ Krysila greeted her.
‘How do you expect me to speak with you trussed up like a hung pheasant waiting for the roasting spit?’ Leanan gibed petulantly, taking pleasure in defiance even now.
‘Cut her down,’ Krysila ordered as their eyes locked. Krysila had taken the form of a sídhe. With her back turned it seemed that she was a beauty with her river of sleek black hair and shapely form. Yet her face was too bitter to be beautiful.
The roar of the blood filling the numbed channels of Leanan Sídhe’s veins was agony. She shook her arms as though they burned, glaring at the redcap that had released her. Dark looks seemed the only resistance that she had. She sometimes longed for a break in the monotonous slosh of the waves, the rise and shudder of seaweed, but now she wanted to turn to the reassuring regularity of the sea’s breath.
‘I was wondering if another week as my prisoner had made you more obedient, daughter. You tricked me when you took me and the redcaps to the brownie women, calling in that wretched jay to help them escape. I want you to swear I may trust you to join me in my plans for retaining Velmoran,’ Krysila demanded, her voice low and threatening.
‘Never.’ Leanan could not repress an almost savage smile. Her mother could control everything else but not her mind. It delighted her to vex Krysila by withstanding her plans.
‘I’ve not come to treaty with you. Never assume anything. You’re my daughter; it is for me to train and command you.’
It was lucky that Leanan’s tresses curtained her face, for it would have been the worse for her had her mother seen how she mockingly rolled her eyes.
Leanan’s head shot up as Krysila continued with deliberate emphasis, ‘I went to see you father today.’
The pause after she spoke was torture to Leanan. She tried to shake away the sensation that ice had been tipped down her back. ‘How is he?’ Leanan asked lamely.
‘His time in Midhir’s dungeons hasn’t made him any less venomous towards me. You’ll not need to ask how he is when I tell you that he’s kept on the rack as the other prisoners; goblins, werewolves, hobyahs and hags quarrel for a scrap of his flesh. He now rues that he stole some of the elixir of life from The Dagda. He should have had more sense than to cross the sídhe High King. Death would be better than to be constantly renewed only to be ripped apart again.’
‘You monster!’ Leanan shuddered.
‘You care for him, don’t you? After what he tried to do to you?’ Krysila sneered.
‘He had no choice; Midhir was blackmailing Father to give me away for his bride. He’d not have done it otherwise.’
‘I suppose you’d like to see your father set free from his agony? I have a proposition to put to you.’
‘I’m never going to marry Midhir!’ Leanan snapped decisively. She imagined that Midhir must have offered to release her father in return for her hand in marriage as part of his negotiations with Krysila. She loathed Midhir, the son of the sídhe High King. At the Seelie Court when she had tried to defend the brownies Midhir had lodged his poisoned dagger in her back only for a fate worse than death to await her. He had taken her to her mother to be resurrected. Midhir had made her Krysila’s prisoner and she would never forgive him.
‘I’m not asking that,’ Krysila reprimanded abruptly.
‘I want you to help me destroy those stinking brownies. No getting soft and saving them this time. Once they’re dealt with then I’ll have a word with Midhir about freeing your father.’
Leanan was silent, shivering as the breeze brushed her hair with inanimate smoothness. Then she said calmly, ‘I’ll do it. Let me go free.’