Krysila enlists the help of Leanan Sidhe to trap the brownies
|Leanan Sídhe peered through her tangled hair at the churning waves framed by the sea cave in which she was imprisoned. The cave walls were a tumble of carved stone, all that remained of the underground harbour of Velmoran piled where it fell during her mother’s attack upon the stronghold of the brownies. It amazed Leanan how much destruction her mother managed to wreak in her kraken form.|
Leanan shifted her arms, trying to relieve the pressure of the rope twisted around her wrists. It rubbed them sore — an ugly bracelet for such slender white arms. Leanan scoffed.
Long had she hung manacled to the cavern roof, knowing rescue to be 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. A strange fondness awoke in her as she tried to picture their faces, their stories. She thanked her stars that she was a goddess of inspiration, for she might have gone mad but for imagining tales of the lives of the brownies.
‘My Lady, your mother wishes to see you.’ Vortimus’s stentorian 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 from the pace of Vortimus’s boots as he left, she guessed he took it that she acquiesced. He would be going to tell her mother, Krysila, that she was ready to see her.
How she loathed Vortimus. Taking the human changeling for her knight was a decision that she deeply regretted, however handsome she had once found him with his swarthy good looks. Bile rose in her throat as she recalled Vortimus accompanying the sidhé king, Midhir, as he journeyed to bring Leanan to Krysila in Velmoran. Always Vortimus had excuses for staying with 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. He treated Leanan as 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 became broken from the shattered skull of a brownie girl never to grow into adulthood. Leanan was sure someone entered the cavern behind her. She waited for the bracing updraft of a gust to twist her to face her mother.
‘Well, daughter?’ Krysila greeted her. Krysila had taken the form of a sídhe — the same form in which she bewitched Leana’s father, King Lugh of the sídhe. At first glance, Krysila appeared to be a beauty with her river of sleek black hair and shapely form. Yet, her face was too bitter to be beautiful, especially when she gave her daughter such a look of disapproval.
‘How do you expect me to speak with you whilst I’m trussed up like a hung pheasant waiting for the roasting spit?’ Leanan gibed petulantly, taking pleasure in defiance even now.
Krysila locked eyes with her daughter, then turned to the redcap general who accompanied her. ‘Gribble, cut her down.’
As Gribble began sawing at her bonds, Leanan glared at her mother’s back. Tumbling to her knees on the ground, an agonising roar of blood filled the numbed channels of Leanan’s veins. She shook her arms as though they burned, cursing Gribble for releasing her so roughly. She often longed for a break in the monotonous slosh of the waves, the rise and shudder of seaweed, but now she wanted to return to the reassuring regularity of the sea’s breath rather than be freed to become her mother’s puppet.
‘I wondered if another week as my prisoner had made you more obedient? 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 said, her voice low and threatening.
‘Never.’ Leanan could not repress an almost savage smile. Her mother might 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’s for me to train and command you.’
It pleased Leanan that her mottled mahogany 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 tortured 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.’
Leanan shuddered. ‘You monster!’
Krysila sneered. ‘You care for him, don’t you? After what he tried to do to you?’
‘He had no choice, Midhir blackmailed 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’s arrogance. As son of the sídhe High King, he thought he could control everyone. At the Seelie Court when she 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, I’ll have a word with Midhir about freeing your father.’
Leanan fell silent, shivering as the breeze brushed her hair with inanimate smoothness. Then she said calmly, ‘I’ll do it. Let me go free.’