tagSci-Fi & FantasyGaelic Goddess

Gaelic Goddess

byGlaze72©

What do you call a thousand lawyers at the bottom on the ocean?

A good start.

****

The funeral was beautiful, and almost everyone was smiling.

The dead man's employers were smiling. They would never have to rely again on Mick Phelan's courtroom savvy, his encyclopedic knowledge of Chicago city politics, his ability to negotiate the twisted and labyrinthine world where law, corruption, and crime all met. They would regret his loss, but there were dozens of mob lawyers in Chicago, and Mick had been an unsavory sort even for them.

Plus, they wouldn't have to pay the bastard's bills anymore.

The dead man's enemies were smiling. They wouldn't have to watch, grim-faced and disgusted, as he twisted and abused the law for his own ends, and those of his clients; one more tool to amass obscene wealth and to keep murderers, extortionists, kidnappers, and thieves out of jail. A special envoy from the D.A.'s office was there. Just to make sure, it was said, that the fucking prick was actually dead.

The dead man's co-workers were smiling. They filed by the casket, one at a time, and if any of them shed a tear over the man who made their working days a misery and their holidays a hell, no one noticed.

The dead man's relatives were smiling, the ones who bothered to come. The ones who were sober enough to drive to the church. The ones who could stomach the charade. The ones who hadn't been broken by him.

Like Tom's father.

Tom Phelan sat in the pew beside his mother, his face carved from stone, as he remembered his gentle, decent father, who had been driven to drink, drugs, and death by the monster who now lay in a rosewood casket in a cathedral.

All Tom had left of Doug Phelan were photographs and memories.

He gripped his mother's hand hard as the bishop launched into a litany of Mick Phelan's imaginary virtues. His lips bent in a humorless smile as he wondered exactly how much money the sanctimonious bastard had been paid to say the funeral mass.

Why don't his vestments catch fire? He wondered bitterly. Why doesn't the cross itself burn rather than witness such an obscenity? Beside him, a tear escaped Kathleen Morris Phelan's eye and hung, jewel-like, on her cheek below her black veil, and Tom knew she was thinking of his father, too.

Four years, Dad, Tom thought. If you could have just held on for four more years, you could be here with us.

But Doug Phelan, driven beyond the breaking point by his tyrannical father, had committed suicide with a bottle of pills in his office late one night, no longer able to endure the abuse heaped on him by his own kin, and unable, due to Mick Phelan's powerful connections, to break away and find work of his own.

Kathleen had finally done what Doug had been unable to do, removing herself entirely from Chicago and relocating to Iowa, where she found work as a librarian. Tom, then in his senior year at Northwestern, had taken the devil's bargain and his grandfather's money, and had entered law school the following year.

He grinned now in honest happiness.

If you knew what I intend to do with my degree you'd be screaming in hell, you old bastard.

Actually, I hope you're screaming anyway.

He realized that he had daydreamed through the end of the homily and the final hymn, and that the pallbearers were filing forward. He walked up to join them. He took his place at the middle of the now-closed casket, opposite his cousin, Scott, the smell of cheap whiskey around him like a cloud.

"OK, boys," whispered his only living uncle, Mark. "Let's get the old sonuvabitch to the cemetery and plant him deep. Otherwise he might decide to come back."

Tom shuddered. As one, the men lifted the casket and walked it down the aisle. He kept his eyes forward, but as they passed out of the nave and towards the vestibule, he saw her for the first time, sitting in the last pew.

She was dressed all in black, as most of the women at the service were. The dress, while severe in cut and shape, clung so closely to her finely-sculpted curves that it might as well have been painted on her body. Her hair was black, as dark as tar, and in fell like a waving river over her milk-pale shoulders to the middle of her back.

But it was her eyes that caught and held Tom's. Midnight blue, they watched him and the casket he held with a gaze that mingled hope and despair.

Tom shivered and wrenched his eyes away from her. Her eyes reminded him of drug addicts he had seen on the streets of Chicago. Hating their lives, fearing even more the idea of living without their dependency.

"Tom!" Mark hissed. "Pay attention, dammit!"

Tom started. Somehow his walk had angled toward the mysterious woman, and he had pulled the rest of the bearers off line. He quickly snapped his eyes forward and adjusted his stride, putting the casket back on track.

At the base of the steps the hearse waited, rear door open. Tom helped slide the coffin into it, then stepped aside. Mark closed the door firmly, and they all shook hands, already beginning to sweat in the unseasonable May heat. Around them, people filed out of the church and scattered to their cars.

One chapter ends, another begins, Tom thought sourly. At least we don't have to do this bullshit again at the cemetery. The family had flatly refused to have another ceremony at the gravesite, and Mick Phelan would be interred with no one but gravediggers to keep him company.

He wandered over to his mother, who was accepting condolences from those who didn't know any better. As he approached, a fat man in an expensive suit was talking to her, his equally chubby wife at his side.

"...such a great loss to the legal community. And to your family, as well, I'm sure. May I offer my most sincere sympathies."

Tom's mother smiled stiffly, but he had caught the subtle lean backward, as if she was about to turn and run. He stepped forward quickly, his body firm against his mother's shoulder, subtly supporting her..

"Alderman Kroeger! What a surprise! I didn't know they let convicted criminals out of jail to attend funerals."

Kroeger's eyes turned flinty. "The sentence was reduced to parole, young man. I am allowed to leave my home under certain circumstances, such as this."

"Yes, so I'd heard. How fortunate for you that you had such a good advocate. Most public officials who are found with a stash of child pornography aren't nearly so lucky, especially when they are also the subjects of a federal bribery investigation." He leaned forward and lowered his voice to a loud whisper, sure to attract the attention of those nearby. "Tell me. How did Gramps make those charges go away? Who did you guys pay off? The feds? The judge? The prosecutor?

"Oh well," he said with a mirthless grin to Kroeger's outraged glare. "It is Chicago, after all. This entire town stinks of corruption and scandal."

He turned to his mother. "Everyone seems to be clearing out. What do you say we take off?"

"Gladly," said Kathleen. She turned away from the Kroegers with a nod that was barely polite, and they left to find Tom's car.

****

"Good God, I'm glad that's over," his mother groaned as they entered Tom's small apartment in Evanston. She kicked out of her heels and collapsed in a heap on his recliner, closing her eyes wearily.

At nearly fifty years old, Kathleen Phelan still retained some of the good looks which had attracted Tom's father, but her face was lined and careworn before her time, and her rich brown hair bore many streaks of gray. Years of fighting a losing battle against Doug's depression and alcoholism had aged her. Despite her love for her husband, his death was in some ways a blessing, as it gave her the chance to escape her father-in-law's influence and start over. She was happier now than she had been since the first days of her marriage, and she would no more think of moving back to Chicago than she would of going to the moon.

"How long are you going to stay?" Tom asked.

She cracked one eye. "Tonight. Then I am getting the hell out of this damn town, and if I ever come back here, you have my permission to put me in the loony bin."

"Come on, Mom. Chicago's not so bad. We've got lots of good stuff here. The lake, Second City, sports..."

"Crime, traffic, corruption, pollution. I'll take the stink of an Iowa pig farm any day over what you've got here. When are you going to get out of this pit, Tom?"

"I take the bar exam in three weeks. I've already got job interviews lined up after that. Hopefully I will be gone and away from Dad's side of the family by the time the lease here is up at the end of June."

"Good," she said firmly. "I don't know when the old fuck's will is going to be read, but you have my permission to act on my behalf. I'm smarter than to expect anything from him. I hope you are, too," she said, cocking an eyebrow.

Tom nodded. "It wouldn't surprise me to see that he left all his money to the NRA or the John Birch Society just to screw everyone one last time," he said. "And we know we were never his favorite people. Hell, he might have not written a will at all, just for the fun of watching everyone go for each others' throats.

"But there's so much to get rid of if it goes to probate. The house in Chicago and the one on Lake Geneva. The cars. The contents of the houses. Money. Art. Other property. Christ, it could get tied up in court for years. God only knows who he appointed as the executor, if he did it at all. It sure as hell wasn't me."

"All the more reason to stay out of it, kiddo," Kathleen said as she rose to her feet. "I'm going to take a shower, and then you can take me out to eat and we can forget about all of this.

"One thing Iowa doesn't have," she said with a grin, "is decent sushi. So get ready for volcano rolls, sashimi, and chopsticks."

****

The next day, Tom woke up late. He wandered into his tiny kitchen, dressed only in a pair of boxers and a light t-shirt, and saw a note from his mother on the counter, written in blue ink on the back of one of his bar exam prep forms.

Good morning, sleepyhead. I woke up early and didn't feel like hanging around. I'm leaving for home. Sorry to cut and run while you are still asleep, but you know how it is for me. Give me a call when you wake up. I'll be on I-80 and back in Des Moines before you know it.

All my love,

Mom.

"Shit."

He ran outdoors, hoping to catch her before she drove off, but her car was gone from the curb in front of the apartment building. From the tone of the note, she had probably woken up around sunrise. His couch wasn't exactly conducive to long, leisurely naps.

He slouched back up the stairs to his apartment, with nothing to look forward to other than another day of studying for the bar.

Fortunately for him, life had other plans. When he opened his door, he was stunned to see the woman from the funeral, fully nude, knelt in supplication on the carpet in his sparse living room. As he entered, she raised a tear-streaked face to his gaze.

"Please, don't send me away," she said.

****

Her skin was pale, as pale as bone, or moonbeams on snow. But her hair was the black as a raven's wing, and her deep-set eyes were the blue of a winter sky at twilight. Her lips were full and red, and her body was made for love.

Tom looked at her face and figure, and desired her beyond all measure. He wanted to gather her in his arms and to sooth away her fears. He wanted to protect her and to ravish her, both at the same time.

He took a step towards her, and stopped, as she backed away from him fearfully, crawling backwards on her hands and knees. He raised his hands to show that he meant her no harm, and then paused, taken aback by the sheer strangeness of the situation.

He frowned. "Who the heck are you? And how the hell did you get into my apartment?"

She bent her head down, touching her forehead down to the carpet, not unlike a religious fanatic giving obeisance to an unpleasant god.

"I am yours," she said, her voice scraped raw with loathing and grief.

"Huh?"

"I. Am. Yours," she repeated slowly and distinctly. "By the laws of inheritance, I pass into your ownership. Unless you choose to send me away. If that be your choice, I then have no recourse than to go to your cousins, and give myself over to them."

Tom was half-tempted to open the door and demand that this crazy woman leave. But, "To Scott and Sean?" Tom shook his head. They were the twin sons of his Uncle Matthew, a pig of a man who had died of a stroke six years ago. The sons were no better than the father, and it was only by some miracle they had been sober enough to help carry the casket yesterday.

God only knew what they would do to this woman, should she turn up in their house.

"Listen," he said, shaking his head. "I don't know who you are or where you came from, but I can't talk to you like this. Stand up and I'll find something for you to wear."

"My master is kind."

Tom shot her a look as he went into his bedroom. Her voice had been deeply ironic, and her intelligent eyes held the slightest glimpse of amusement behind her fear.

He pulled a Cubs t-shirt and a pair of sleeping shorts out of his bureau, then walked back into his living room, and stopped, jaw flapping uselessly.

The woman was now standing, but she was no longer naked. Instead, she was dressed in pale green lingerie, the color of new leaves in spring. Stockings caressed the flesh of her legs, then gave way to a garter belt and panties which girdled her slim hips. Above, a delicate lace bra held and lifted her high, firm breasts. Her hair was now bound with green ribbons to match her garments, falling in a braid to the small of her back.

"What? How?"

"Does this not please my master?" she asked, eyes cast demurely low. "Perhaps another choice would suit."

There was a ripple in the air, and she appeared again, this time dressed in the severe black habit of a nun. Then another, and she was a french maid, complete with feather duster. Then still another, and she was dressed as Marilyn Monroe in the famous photograph, hands vainly seeking to control her skirt, dark blue eyes looking at him wickedly over one shoulder.

Tom collapsed onto his sofa. "Please, stop," he groaned, covering his eyes with his hand. He held out the clothes. "And please, put these on so we can talk."

"He serves me with his own hands," she murmured, her voice low. "My master is gracious."

"Stop calling me that!" She jumped backward, face fearful, as he snapped at her. He dared to look up, and she was dressed in the clothes he had handed to her. He rubbed his face with his hands.

"I am no one's master. I am a man, and my name is Tom. Please, call me by my name." He waited until she nodded, her black hair, free again, hiding her face from him.

"Now," he said, his voice gentle. "Suppose you start by telling me what your name is, and what you are doing here, in my apartment."

The woman took a deep breath, then raised her face bravely to his and met his eyes.

"My name is Rhiannon. Or Riona. I am the youngest and least-regarded daughter of Brigid, daughter of the Dagda, High King of the Tuatha De Danann."

Tom Phelan passed out.

****

When he regained consciousness, he found himself looking at the ceiling of he apartment, his head pillowed by something warm and soft. He turned to the side, and blinked, realizing his head was cradled on Rhiannon's thighs, his face only bare inches from her groin. He scrambled to his feet, blushing fiercely. She remained on the sofa, eyebrows pulled together in a frown.

"You're of the the Tuatha? One of the Sidhe? The fair folk? What the heck are you doing in Chicago?" Tom's head spun. Of his grandfather's redeeming qualities, which were not many, his vast knowledge of Irish folklore and mythology was the best. On the few nights when he was in a mellow mood, he would occasionally tell tales from the "old country" as he called it, even though he was a third-generation Irishman and the Phelans hadn't lived in Ireland since before the turn of the twentieth century. Stories of the Tuatha and the Sidhe were prominent among them.

"Your grandfather happened," she said, her voice low and hating.

"As the youngest child of my mother, I was wild and foolish, and enamored of humans and the devices they wrought for easing their lives. How clever I thought them! So, more often than I should, I left the safety of Tyr-Na-Nog and ventured into the mortal realm.

"It was there that I met him, one night nearly fifty years ago. A storm had come up out of the west, and my beautiful white horse Sneachta was lame and tired. I was wet and weary and afraid.

"He drove up in his car as we walked by the side of the road. He was visiting Ireland at that time, and offered me a place to stay and stabling for Sneachta. But he was laying a trap."

"I am told he could be a charming bastard, back when he was a younger man," Tom murmured. Rhiannon nodded.

"The High King alone knows how he guessed my name and lineage. He was every inch a gentleman that night, but in the morning I made a terrible mistake. As we ate our morning meal, I thanked him for his care."

She shuddered. "Oh, Tom. The look in his eye when I spoke those words! It was as if a ravening beast had been given form in a human body. He knew too much of us. When I thanked him he smiled, and invoked the ancient ways; that by thanking him I owed him a debt."

"It is dangerous to thank the Tuatha," Tom recalled. "And if a human is ever thanked by one, that is a sign of great favor, as it puts the Tuatha at one's call."

Rhiannon's eyes warmed slightly as Tom followed her story. "And as I was young and stupid and did not think anyone would dare do me harm, I agreed. He asked me to meet him three nights hence, and we would settle the account."

"And you agreed?" his voice was disbelieving.

"I had no choice," she said, meeting his eyes miserably. "I was bound by honor.

"Mick Phelan, however," her mouth twisted, "was not."

"I came on the third night. And he had a contract with him. A piece of paper, he said, which would record what was owed. What did I care for scribbles on parchment, I thought. And I took up the pen and signed my name, and my life ended."

"Oh, God," Tom moaned. While Mick's main calling had been as a criminal defense attorney, his skill with contracts was legendary. Long, convoluted, and impenetrable, they could be read by a dozen different people in a dozen different ways. He had heard rumors that one of his grandfather's contracts had caused a lawsuit that lasted eleven years and drove two independent arbitrators into retirement.

"What did the contract say?"

"That I was his," she said simply, as Tom raised his head and looked at her in horror. She met his eyes bleakly. "His until the day he died. And then I would pass to his blood-kin. And so on. Forever.

"And while I was his, I would serve him in any way he chose. Cook his meals. Clean his house. Service him sexually. Oh, yes," she said as his stomach heaved. "He invoked that clause many, many times. Why else do you think I appeared before you this way? It was how he preferred I greet him when he came home every night."

"Every night?" Tom whispered.

She nodded. "For forty-eight years.

"I tried to fight it, once he told me what I had done. I invoked my power and appealed to the High King himself. And he followed, gloating. And my own kin ruled against me, invoking the honor of the Tuatha. Saying that I had thanked him and acknowledged a debt owed of my own free will, and that I had been under no duress when I signed the contract.

"The High King told me that a mortal's life was short, when compared to the Tuatha, and since I was so taken with mortals, I might use the time usefully, to learn more about them.

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