A Hope for Rauri Ch. 01byTaLtos6©
*** One that I've always liked, the original title was "For the Love of the Banshee", but it wouldn't fit in the title field on Lit. once you add the chapter numbers. :(
Anyhow, in case you're not aware or might not care, more likely, there is more in common than Gaelic between the Irish and the Scots. They sound different and all of that, but there are some common roots - such as some of their ancient mythology.
So you might have heard of the Sidhe. In Scotland the same folks are the Sith, pronounced about the same way. They had a lot of the same legendary beasties, such as banshees. And then there are some that are distinct, such as the huge dog which portends a death as well.
And then there's Wesley Valence, one-time archer, foot-soldier, hired hand, gunslinger, investigator and all around nice guy. He's in Wyoming.
What's that got to do with Scotland? Hey, gimme 20 minutes and I'll tie that together. This chapter's short though 0_o
Loudon Hill, East Ayrshire, Scotland. 2013
The night was still and cool, and to some, it might easily have felt cold after perhaps more than a few minutes. Winter had mostly given up its hold on the land and spring hadn't tightened its grip yet either, so the land seemed to be held in a cold and yet snowless and soggy way.
Something which happened at this time of year was that the earth gives off some of the heat which it has received from the sun during the day. The moist warmth rises from the wet ground into the cold air just above it and the result is called adiabatic fog by the weather forecaster folks. The mists which rise then are never very thick in that they hug the ground -- which is why it's called ground fog by regular people. With almost no moon and no human activity in the area anymore, there was little light to see by.
But there were things here which didn't require very much light if it was needed at all.
Near the bottom of a long slope, there stood the eaves of the nearby woods. Hidden just a little under those eaves, lay the ruined remains of Backhill farm. In the light of day, there wasn't very much to be seen there, other than the foundation ring and the remains of the hearth, since it had been made out of fieldstones, the sort of rock which caused plowshares to snag or break if the man working the pair of horses didn't get them stopped in time before they struggled through the obstruction.
The place was ages old and it's builder and original owners were long forgotten, having had several resident families over it's long past, though during the last several hundreds of years, most had never stayed long, other than out of necessity until the farms they'd build for themselves elsewhere were complete enough to move into and Backhill was deserted once more.
The last residents had come and gone sometime during the nineteenth century and after that long standing in disuse, well, Backhill now didn't stand at all anymore. Though tonight ...
If one had been standing nearby and that meant in the trees which grew near the place and seemed to protect it somehow, not closer than perhaps a hundred feet, then one might have seen Backhill farm as it had appeared more than half a millennium before, not that it had ever changed all that much. The few buildings were there again in the mist, looking maybe a little foreboding somehow under their thatched roofs.
And if one was standing there this night right then, one might have seen the door to the home open silently as a lone figure stepped out into the darkness and begin to walk slowly out of the trees, sobbing softly.
The figure stood all alone for several minutes and it could be said that it was during those few minutes that the hypothetical human observer -- had there really been one there -- was at greatest risk of being noticed by the figure.
Since there was no human there, she only stood weeping quietly.
A dark shadow came to her notice in the otherwise almost impenetrable dark of the place as it padded on large feet down the slope toward her. She began to walk and they met a little closer to the bottom that to the top.
After that, they turned and walked off, the figure's sobs slowly growing louder until at last, as they strode out of sight gaining speed as they went, her weeping became low moans of sadness which rose until she began to screech and wail as they vanished from view.
But there had been an observer this night.
Just not a human one.
She stood and watched for a time and once the others were out of her sight, she looked down and shook her head slowly, thinking and wondering for perhaps the hundredth time whether she'd done the right things out of her pity for another so long ago.
Maybe it was time to fix this, she thought.
Before it grew any worse.
A Bean Sith had never walked the night in the company of a Cù Sìth. Either one alone could be enough to stop a human heart if they arrived to warn of a death.
But together, ... and not leaving off at only warning, ...
Such a thing had never happened before, though it seemed to be happening now.
She just wanted a better option out of the narrow range of ones which came to her mind.
She left then, turning to walk through the night in a different direction. After many minutes, she had the beginnings of an idea.
Wyoming, U.S.A. 2013
The slight crosswind was driving him a little nuts. It wasn't much when it was there, it was just the annoying way that it would drop off to nothing at the most irritating times, and so far, it usually happened as he was in the middle of squeezing off the shot.
It wouldn't be such an annoyance if Wesley was just a regular guy out doing a little plinking in his rural backyard with a .22, or out at a range trying to hit a printed target of a freaking wild turkey at twenty yards. But he wasn't in either of those places and he didn't do those things.
He moved his head and looked through his spotting scope there on it's little tripod. He saw the target, but that wasn't the issue. He was shooting at a thousand yards, so the bullseye was like three feet across at that range. He could hit that in a blizzard, as difficult as it could be at times. He wasn't here for that either.
He was here out of a desire to attain a personal goal. His own bit of very quiet glory. He doubted that anyone would ever know of it and he didn't give a crap if no one ever found out about it. This was personal.
There were lots of shooters who could hit a three-foot bull at a thousand yards he guessed, some of them more readily than others, he supposed. To do that took skill, patience, some dedication and most of all, it took money. You can't do that with a rifle that you bought on impulse over at Sears Roebuck when they were having a sale.
Scoring a bullseye at a thousand yards. That was a signpost that he'd passed long ago, though there were times when it was a bitch for even him to manage, given the capricious nature of the way that the air currents moved and influenced the flight of a bullet.
He didn't care about that anymore. He was here to nail it.
He wanted to place a five shot group inside of the center of that bullseye with a maximum spread of four inches.
The breeze just wasn't cooperating, that was all.
Looking through the scope again, he saw the target, but that wasn't what he was looking at. He picked up his binoculars with his left hand and looked down-range, rolling the focusing adjustment as he did to look at the grass between him and that target.
He wanted to check the way that the grass blew in the breeze and then he hoped to try to look for the little waves of heat rising from it -- tiny mirages which waved out there to tell him quite accurately what he needed to know about the breeze. With that and a little calculation in his head, he'd know just how much windage to allow for on this range and today -- right now.
But he didn't see that. Well, actually, he did. He saw the way that the breeze blew the grass from the left and as he focused farther out, he also saw the way that it blew the grass from the right about four hundred yards farther on. Then it went left again out at about eight hundred and fifty yards.
It didn't help that his personal goal was to nail this without a scope on his match rifle.
No sir, he wanted this achievement while shooting through micrometer iron sights -- pretty much the hard way. The sights themselves were worth more than a lot of people would have put into the cost of their rifles, though he was really trying to negate one of his own innate advantages here by doing it this way.
Even through a spotting scope, a lot of people could see the bullseye, though it appeared as a small dot to the unaided eyes of most people that far away, but how many could clearly see the four inch imaginary bullseye that he was shooting for?
He could and he didn't even need a scope to do it, other than to make this go a little quicker and to appear to be like any of the other shooters here on the range today.
He didn't need the spotting scope at all.
He just couldn't get the fucking wind to behave for three freaking minutes, is all.
He set his rifle down on its short little bipod and reached for his GPS. A few button presses later, and he saw that sunrise here would happen tomorrow at 6:12 AM local time. So he'd be here waiting even before the range opened.
Early morning = no misbehaving thermally-induced crosswinds.
It was too late in the early afternoon for this, he decided. Too much heating of the ground by the sun. Too much turbulence. He didn't give a crap about the wind, just as long as whatever it did, it kept doing that for the time that he needed to place his shots once he'd figured it out.
He sat up and began to pack his things up. The rest of the afternoon would be spent in cleaning the rifle and chalking this up to just bad luck. To go on shooting now was just wasting his money on match-grade ammunition.
As he walked back to the parking lot, he saw a middle-aged woman walking toward him. After a second, he knew that the woman wouldn't be passing him and going on the other way, either.
She sure didn't look like a shooter.
If he had to guess, he'd say that she'd been a little long into most people's idea of a beauty back in her day, not that it made much difference, he supposed. She probably ruled the local PTA with an iron fist. But one look told him that in her day, there likely wouldn't have been much competition for her in just about any beauty pageant that she'd have cared to enter. His next thought was that she wouldn't have ever bothered with something that stupid anyway.
"Hello," the woman said, sounding very definitely British as well as something else which he couldn't place, "Are you Wesley Valence, by any chance?"
Wes stopped dead right there and looked into the woman's face for a moment. Then he began to walk again a moment later, the woman now tagging along.
"You already knew who I was," Wes said flatly, "So why ask?"
The woman looked a little perplexed for a second, "I dunno, mate. It just seemed like a way to open the conversation, I suppose."
"We're not having a conversation," Wes replied, still walking, "You're talking. I'm walking."
Wes reached into his pants pocket for the keys to his car and unlocked it. Opening the trunk, he began to place his things inside.
"I was wondering if I might have a chance to speak with you, if you don't mind," the woman said.
Wesley stopped and turned, "Well wonder no more.
You can't, ok?"
"Look," she said, trying to hide her growing annoyance, "please just tell me what it would take to buy just a little of your time this afternoon."
"Alright," Wes said, feigning a little more weariness than he actually felt at the moment, "Here we are in the hotel bar. Thanks for the drink," he smiled as he carefully swished the golden fluid around in the tumbler of stupidly expensive single-malt scotch, "you have my attention for as long as the drink lasts. Now, what can I do for you?"
The woman looked like someone who'd rehearsed her pitch all the way across the Atlantic and was now on the leading edge of losing a bit of her nerve -- or the rest of her patience as she searched in her purse for a moment and then handed him her card.
"My name is Cleena Danann. That's all that you need to know at this point."
He nodded, looking at the card with her name and addresses in Ulster and Edinbugh and at least three telephone numbers, the long, European kind. He put it in his pocket where everything but her name and email address vanished a moment later.
"You're known to be a bit of a first-rate investigator. My employers have a job that needs doing."
Wes looked at his drink and reminded himself to suppress his inner smart-ass. "You do know that I have an answering service, right?"
"I do," the woman nodded. "I also know that you don't answer your calls for about a week at a time. I didn't want to wait that long."
"Well if you left a message, I'd get to it. I just took a few days off to come here.
You uh, ... you should also be advised that I charge like crazy, alright? I also don't do PI work, following wandering husbands around and like that if that's what this is about."
"I am aware of that," she said, "we don't need anything like that. We need to locate someone who is ... a little more difficult to locate. The job is in Scotland and there is a bit of a personal angle to it for you, we believe."
Wes tried to appear uninterested, but it all came out in the next few minutes anyway.
Well, the Englishwoman had paid for another glass of the Glenlivet, after all.
"We're trying to locate and if necessary authenticate an apparition, and -- "
"Excuse me, "Wesley interrupted, "You said an apparition. I'm afraid that I don't do ghost hunts. For one thing, I don't believe in them.
For another, they're ... well I'd guess that they'd be just a little harder to track down, not having a mailing address and all."
"Yes, yes, we know all of that," his companion said, looking a little annoyed again, "We also know that you are very likely descended from Aymer de Valence, who was the second Earl of Pembroke at the time of the Wars of Scottish Independence."
Wes was stuck now and regretting the way that he'd allowed the dame to talk him into even this. Now he was fairly certain that he'd have to listen to the woman's no-doubt rabid interest in a tale that he knew probably better than anyone.
His ancestor had been a major player in that war on the English side, a staunch supporter of Edwards I and II and one of the leaders of the King's army during the campaign. Aymer De Valence had left no legitimate heirs when he died, though there was one bastard son who was known of.
The trouble here was that he was hoping that this idiot wasn't about to tell him that there had been another.
He sighed, hoping that, with a bit of luck, he'd get to hear that the trail of that other bastard had run dry and couldn't be verified for certain.
Wesley Valence knew that it couldn't. He knew that the trail ended there.
Because Wesley Valence was the other bastard.
He'd just modified his name to try to blend in a little better as he walked down through time, stuck as he was in a bit of immortality.
And stuck as well in a part-time fur coat, every now and then.
So he listened, pretending like hell to appear to be barely half-interested as the Brit chattered almost excitedly.
"... and so we know that Roger de Valence served under Gilbert de Clare as a mounted archer and, well, after their defeat at Bannockburn, which was a rout by the end, a great many of the English forces sought refuge at Bothwell Castle, the Earl of Hertford and many of his people among them.
Robert the Bruce left then to continue the war that he was waging almost at the guerilla level at that point, now that he was gathering steam as it were. He left some troops under the command of one of his younger brothers, Edward Bruce, and -- "
"You mean de Brus," Wesley said, "Look, I know all of this. I wrote a history essay on it once in high school, ok?" He was lying here to her, but that wasn't the point.
"For the life of me, I'll never get why everybody calls them Bruce. Half of the fucking English lords then were Norman, a lot of the Scots too."
He looked at the woman, "Norman, you know? French?"
"Er, ... yes," the happy historian said, "like de Valence, hmm?"
"Right," Wesley nodded almost sullenly, "So you were saying?"
"Ah, well," she smiled enough to make him suppress his groan, "it seems that there was a man in charge of Bothwell Castle at the time, a Walter fitzGilbert, and he'd been a loyal supporter of the English crown for years by that point through the William Wallace years, having risen to the title of the constable of the castle by royal decree.
But when Edward Bruce appeared on the lawn, demanding that the castle yield, fitzGilbert promptly handed it over and walked out, so that he could be handed the barony of Cadzow right after as his reward.
The Earl of Hertford and all of his retinue were slaughtered by the Scots."
Well, Wesley thought, not all.
As he sat on the bar stool, he remembered the dark day and night which followed. The battle of Bannockburn had occurred on the 24th of June, 1314 and he remembered it well.
Because he'd been there that day.
He'd been a young man of twenty-one winters seven years before that, fighting the Scots at the Battle of Loudon Hill and trying not to shit himself in his fear of dying. He knew the man in charge of the English side as his father though he'd never met him. He just knew that from what his mother had told him.
The fight had been badly managed by the English and superbly crafted in it's preparations by Robert the Bruce.
The thing of it was that he hadn't known at the time that he didn't have that much to be afraid of. He found to his amazement as they fled the field and were hounded by the Scots that he was a lot harder to kill than they were.
A memory flared in his brain of trying to get just a little farther ahead of a roaring giant of a Scot and failing at it. As he tried desperately to climb a rise of wet and slippery grass, the man had caught him by the ankle and spun him over onto his back, laughing with glee as he gored the terrified young man through the gut with his spear.
There was a bit of a crystalline moment then for them both as the Scot stood waiting for Wesley to die and tried to twist the spear in a little more as though that might be the reason that it didn't seem to be working.
Wes had been immobilized in his moment of agony -- for just a second -- before he'd grabbed the shaft of the spear to snap it off like a matchstick and pulled out the long point from his abdomen to get up, reach for the man and rip him at least three times right through with the long and carefully sharpened metal tip of it, almost lifting the man to his tiptoes in doing it.
The look of amazed surprise on the man's face had almost been worth hanging around for to watch, but Wes had hesitated only long enough to see the start of the fade in the giant's eyes as his life left him.
He was gone and running before the man had even fallen onto his face. It wasn't until he remembered to look as he'd stumbled along and been amazed that there had only been a thin wet scar in the place that he'd been torn -- and that was gone by daybreak the next morning. When anyone had asked, he'd had to lie about all of the blood on his clothing.
It had happened on the 24th of June and there had been the Battle of Glen Trool early the previous April.
Roger Wesley de Valence had missed that one, since he'd been rolling around deep in the forest in the throes of the strangest sickness then and whenever he'd had a moment of clear thought, he'd wondered what was wrong with him. He'd lain there screaming on and off for a day and a half, almost barking mad at times.