Chapter Fifteen – Tales of Heroes and the Love of Legends
The next thing Endan remembered was a story he’d once heard, and the girls were more than happy to hear him tell it later that day. They sat down together in the kitchen with a pot of tea and a plate of sweet biscuits, eager for a story to take their minds off of everything else that was going on.
“This is an old Irish story,” Endan explained. “My people have been telling it for centuries, and I have told it to my beloved. One day, I hope to share it with my children.”
“Humans are so romantic!” Mesilde exclaimed, smiling and fluttering her eyes. Endan and Callina both gave her a look that meant ‘be quiet and listen.’
“There was once a prince named Kilhuch, but soon after his birth, his mother died,”1 Endan began.
“Is this going to be a sad story?” Mesilde asked, pouting.
Endan shook his head. “It has a happy ending. May I go on?”
“Please do,” Callina said, eyeing her friend with some annoyance.
“Shortly before she died, she asked the king to not take another wife until he saw a briar with two blossoms growing upon her grave. He agreed, and once she had passed away, he sent someone to her grave every morning to see if anything had started to grow.”
“He wanted a new wife so badly that he watched his first wife’s grave?” This time it was Callina interrupting the story. “What about the idea of true love?”
“I am not done yet,” Endan reminded her. Then he went on. “After many years, the briar finally appeared, and he was finally able to take a new wife. She foretold that Prince Kilhuch would marry a maiden by the name of Olwen, and none other, so they went to King Arthur’s court to ask for this young lady’s hand in marriage. He brought with him many magnificent gifts, including two silver spears with spear-points so well-tempered that they could have wounded the wind.”
“But the wind is only moving air,” Mesilde interrupted. “It cannot be wounded.”
“Imagine if it could be,” Endan told her. “The point is, if any weapon could have done the job, it was his wonderful silver spears.”
“Were they impressed by him at court?” Callina asked, wanting to get back to the story. Endan had already explained to them a few things about the history of where he was from, so they had a good basis for understanding his story.
“That and his golden sword,” Endan confirmed with a nod, “and all of his other treasures; with all of his gold and rubies and heraldry, he was quite the nobleman.”
“He was a prince, after all,” Mesilde reminded them.
Endan nodded and went on. “Well, King Arthur invited him to stay at the palace, but Prince Kilhuch was not interested in feasting. He explained that he had only come to ask for a favor. Arthur agreed that he would give him whatever he asked for, so long as it was not his sword, his land, nor his own wife, Guinevere.”
“Isn’t there a story about Guinevere?” Callina wanted to know.
“Quite a few, really. The stories about her and King Arthur are pretty popular back home, even though they’re hundreds of years old. Now focus on this story is about Kilhuch and Olwen. His biggest problem just then was that King Arthur had never heard of her before.”
“Oh no!” Callina cried. “Now what is he to do?”
Endan could see that he would have to deal with interruptions the whole story though. He sighed and went on. “Luckily, King Arthur was a kind man and promised to send out messengers to look for her. Prince Kilhuch agreed to let the search go on for a year, but at the end of that year, King Arthur reported no success in finding the maiden Olwen.”
“Did he even try to search for her?” Mesilde asked contemptuously.
“Of course he did,” Endan replied. “His messengers went all across his kingdom trying to find her.”
“What about the other kingdoms?” she then asked.
Endan thought about it for a moment. “Well, I suppose he could not have invaded the other kingdoms. But the story is told in this way for a reason. Listen. Prince Kilhuch was very disappointed that the king could not find Olwen, and he complained that Arthur was trying to dishonor him. He was going to leave when Sir Kay, one of King Arthur’s knights, rose up and invited Kilhuch to ride with them until he believed for himself that Olwen did not exist, or until they really did find her.”
“How would they know when it was time to give up?” Mesilde cut in.
“It sounds like trying to prove a negative,” Callina added. “How can you prove that something doesn’t exist? Perhaps it keeps moving while you’re searching for it.”
“You cannot analyze an ancient fairy tale with a modern scientific mind,” Endan explained. “You just have to trust the story to take you on its journey.”
The girls look at one another, shrugged, and went back to listening.
“The amazing thing about Sir Kay was that he could breathe for nine days underwater, and he could go nine days without sleep. When he hurt someone with his sword, his victim could not be healed by even the greatest doctor. He could be as tall as a tree, stayed dry in the rain, and could light fires with his bare hands.”
“He could not have been human, then,” Callina noted.
This earned her a glare from Endan. “There are many such beings in fairy tales. Humans have often imagined themselves as having super powers.”
Then he continued the story. “Sir Bedivere came along as well, who never seemed to be afraid of anything, and who was one of the fastest men in all the land. Arthur also sent a guide who knew many languages along with their party, as well as a man who was known for never returning home from a quest unsuccessful.”
“It sounds like they’re going to find her for sure!” Callina said with a grin. Mesilde looked excited as well.
Endan went on. “Together, they journeyed out and found a magnificent castle, one of the most beautiful in the world. It took them three days just to get there, but then a shepherd told them not to go any closer to the castle. It seemed that everyone who went to that castle perished.”
“I think they went anyway!” Mesilde chimed in.
Endan shook his head. “Not yet. They gave the shepherd a golden ring, which he then gave to his wife.”
“So now shepherds get to have gold for saying, ‘don’t go to the castle’?” Mesilde did not seem enthused by that part of the story at all.
Endan ignored her and went on. “The wife went out to try to hug them –”
“As thanks, right?” Callina said. “That’s nice.”
“But Sir Kay placed a log between himself and her, and she twisted it into a coil. He pointed out that if she’d hugged him, she would have crushed him, and that made her evil. Still, they entered the shepherd’s house and had supper together.”
“This is making less and less sense,” Mesilde complained. Callina told her to keep her mouth shut.
“Here is where things get interesting. After supper, the shepherd’s wife said that the maiden Olwen came there every Saturday to wash.”
“So she is real!” Callina stood up excitedly, bumping the table and causing a little tea to spill out of Endan’s mug. Then, looking quite sorry, she tossed him a cloth to dry it up and sat back down.
“They promised not to harm her – Prince Kilhuch only wanted to marry her, after all – and a message was sent to her. Olwen came dressed in the most magnificent red clothing you could imagine. Her hair was golden –”
Mesilde giggled at her friend’s question. “He could be Olwen’s son!”
“This story is hundreds of years old, and it’s just a fairy tale.”
Callina pouted and let him continue.
“She had emeralds and rubies, beautiful pale skin that was as unblemished as the flowers of the forest. Wherever she walked, flowers sprang up, and everyone who saw her was in infatuated with her. Prince Kilhuch sat down beside her and told her that he was in love with her. She explained that he could only marry her if he gave her father what he wanted.”
“It seems like an interesting way to narrow down her options,” Mesilde said, “if everyone is in love with her.”
“A favor for a favor,” Callina cut in. “So what did Olwen’s father want?”
“They went to the castle to meet him,” Endan told them. “Her father, Yspathaden, turned out to be a hairy man, with thick eyebrows. They had to lift them up so that he could see the visitors, whom he told he would discuss the matter of Olwen on the morrow. They turned to go, and Yspathaden seized a poisoned dart and threw it after them.”
“How mean!” Mesilde shouted.
Endan agreed. “Sir Bedivere caught it and flung it back, which wounded Yspathaden in the knee. He cursed the men for being rude, but was not too terribly hurt by the dart, saying that it was no worse than a bug bite.”
“Prince Kilhuch and his party stayed at the shepherd’s house for the night and went back to the castle the next day. Olwen’s father said it was necessary to consult her four great-grandmothers and her four great-grandfathers before making his decision, and sent them away again”
“Why does he keep wasting their time?” Callina complained. “I’m sure he already knows what he wants from them!”
“That’s how Celtic fairy tales go,” Endan said. “Just relax and enjoy the story. The knights came on the third day, and again Yspathaden threw a poisoned dart at them. Prince Kilhuch caught it and threw it back as hard as he could, and wounded him through the eyeball, so that the dart came out at the back of his head.”
“What?!” Mesilde cried out. “That would kill a human!”
“Yes, but these humans have super-powers,” Callina told her.
“I doubt they’re even human. Don’t your people believe in faeries and demons?” Mesilde asked him.
“Yes, but stop interrupting. You will understand soon.” Endan took a sip of tea and went on. “For the third time, Yspathaden cursed their rudeness and complained that it felt like being bitten by a mad dog. The knights again had supper at the shepherd’s house…”
“I would have stopped going to Yspathaden after the first day,” Mesilde commented. “He sounds really creepy!”
“Maybe,” Endan admitted, “but Prince Kilhuch was already in love with Olwen and couldn’t help himself. So he went to the castle again and spoke with Yspathaden. As I said before, he was a hairy man, and it was because in all the world there was not any comb or scissors that was able to arrange his hair. The only things that could have helped him were the comb and scissors that were between the two ears of Turch Truith, the son of Prince Tared. He, of course, would not give them to him.”
“Between his ears?” Callina asked, looking confused. “You mean inside his skull?”
“In his brain?” Mesilde added, her expression one of disgust.
“Do not question the fairy tale,” Endan told her, refilling his mug. “Prince Kilhuch thought it would be quite easy for him to get Yspathaden the comb and scissors he wanted, so he promised to do it. Olwen’s father warned him that he would not be able to hunt Turch Truith without the hound Drudwyn to help him. But if he wanted to hunt with such a dog, only Mabon the son of Modron could do so, and nobody knew where he was anymore.”
“So now they have an impossible quest!” Callina sighed, throwing up her hands.
“In Celtic lore, the hero doesn’t believe in the word ‘impossible,’” Endan told her. “Like I said, he has every intention of completing this quest and marrying Olwen.”
“I would have found someone else,” Mesilde told them, laying her head wearily on the table.
“Well, if it had been Citlally, I would not have given up on her her so easily. I would have been like Prince Kilhuch and accepted the challenge. He said that he could do it, even when Yspathaden told him that he would also have to find Eidoel, another difficult kinsman to find.”
“Why so many people?” the pink-eyes girl groaned. “I can hardly keep them all straight!”
“It was a different time, and back then this many names was not a big deal. Prince Kilhuch declared that his would have King Arthur’s horses and aid to help him, and swore that he would indeed win the hand of Maiden Olwen. Yspathaden agreed to help pay for food for his quest and sent him on his way. Kilhuch and the other knights rode back to King Arthur and explained that they would start by searching for Eidoel. They found out that Eidoel was imprisoned in the Castle of Glivi.”
“It sounds like Yspathaden should have asked King Arthur for help in the first place.” Mesilde commented.
“But then how would Kilhuch get his quest to marry Olwen?” Callina asked her. “Things are starting to have a reason for being difficult.”
“You’re beginning to understand,” Endan said with a smile. “Glivi gave King Arthur the prisoner, so then it was time to search for Mabon. They found Ousel, who did not know of him, but told them to ask a race of animals who might know. Ousel took them to the Stag of Redynvre, whom they asked about Mabon. The stag did not know, even as ancient as he was, so he took them to an even older creature, the mystical owl.”
“Did the owl know?” Callina asked.
“I bet he didn’t,” Mesilde said sardonically. “Why don’t they ask the primordial ooze?”
“There is no such thing in Celtic legends. But you are right, the owl didn’t know either. He showed them they way to the oldest animal in the world, which was an eagle. He’d heard of Mabon only once, back when he’s almost been devoured by a giant salmon.”
“What is a salmon?” Callina asked.
“A large fish. Eagles like to eat them,” Endan explained. “The eagle had brought many of his kindred back to attack the giant salmon, but the salmon had wanted to make peace, and gave him a gift of fifty spears.”
“Spears make you somebody’s friend?” Callina looked baffled, but knew by now to just accept it.
“The salmon was able to tell Kilhuch where Mabon was,” Endan told the girls with a smiles, “just as the eagle had thought.”
“Hurray!” the girls cheered in unison.
“The salmon knew of a great wrong that was happening near to the walls of Gloucester, and wanted to let two of the knights ride on his shoulders so that he could show them what was going on.”
“The fish wants to take them for a ride?” Mesilde wondered aloud, raising a brow.
“It is a giant fish,” Callina reminded her her.
“Can I go on?” Endan asked in exasperation.
“Go ahead,” the pink-skinned girl told him as she got up and filled up he kettle at the sink. “Just let me get more tea started.”
“Riding a fish… I wouldn’t have expected that from humans.” Mesilde shook her head in utter confusion. “The sea creatures of Aquaria, maybe. But not humans.”
“Expect the unexpected,” Endan told her. “Sir Kay and another knight went onto the salmon’s shoulders, and they proceeded up the stream until they came to the wall of the prison at Gloucester, and they heard a great wailing coming from the dungeon.”
“It was Mabon crying out!” Mesilde shouted.
Endan look surprised and smiled at her. “You’re right! Well, that led Prince Kilhuch and the others to attack the castle where he was being held in order to set him free. Once they were successful, they journeyed on to Ireland, where the Boar Truith was found with his seven young pigs.”
“Oh,” Callina said. “Truith was a boar this whole time? I thought he was a man.”
Endan gave her a cold stare and went on. “Arthur set his hounds to attack the boar, who took off across the land, wrecking everything it as he went, towards the sea to Wales.”
“What’s Wales?” Callina interrupted to ask.
“It’s another country near Ireland and England,” Endan told her.
“So now they’re going to different countries?”
Endan nodded and went back to the story. “Arthur and his men all followed after him. The boar killed a lot of them, yet still they did not give up, and kept following him everywhere. They even killed his piglets one by one.”
“I don’t think I like Arthur anymore,” Mesilde said. She sat back in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest.
“You wouldn’t be the only one,” Endan replied. “He does a lot of unlikable things in his life. Now, they end up in Cornwall, and Mabon and Arthur are finally able to knock the boar down. They get the razor and scissors from his body, but before they could obtain the comb, the boar got back up. They had to chase him into the sea in order to get the comb, and they cursed Yspathaden’s name for giving them such a difficult quest.”
“At least they got the items,” Callina said. “It ended up being worth their trouble.”
“I bet Yspathaden will send him off on another fool’s errand,” Mesilde said. “I don’t think he wants to let his daughter get married.”
“When they got back to Yspathaden’s court,” Endan went on with a weary sigh, “Olwen’s father finally got a good shave – not just his beard, but his skin and flesh came clean off to the very bone from ear to ear.”
“How utterly gory!” Callina exclaimed. “You want to tell a child this story?”
“It won’t have pictures,” Endan told her.
“So that makes it okay? Human, your people are strange.”
Endan shrugged and went back to storytelling.
“Prince Kilhuch asked Yspathaden if he was satisfied with his shave enough that he could now marry Olwen, and her father agreed. He told Kilhuch that it was only by the grace of King Arthur that he had succeeded in his quest.”
“Too bad the had to make Kilhuch sound less then successful.”
Callina looked to her friend and nodded her agreement.
“After that, Yspathaden was seized by the hair of his head and dragged up to the keep, where his head was cut off so that it could be placed on a stake on the citadel.”
“They beheaded Olwen’s father?!”
Callina was as appalled as her friend. “Why would Olwen want to marry him now?”
“You said yourself that her father was hardly human,” Endan told them. “Back then, not all maidens liked their father. She was probably glad to be rid of him. After that, all of man Arthur had gathered together went to their own countries, and Prince Kilhuch was able to take Olwen as his wife.”
The girls looked at one another in stark amazement.
“Did you have to go on some kind of quest in order to marry Citlally?” Callina wanted to know.
Endan shook his head. “Nothing like that, though for her I would have… short of killing her father, of course. He was much nicer than Yspathaden.”
“You love her that much?” Mesilde asked as the kettle started to whistle.
With a nod, Endan let a smile cross his face. “I feel as though I always have, ever since the dawn of time. It is like the stars meant for us to be together, life after life, no matter what our rebirth was. I cannot be without her; she is my one and only beloved.”
“Wow,” Callina breathed as she took the kettle off the burner and placed the tea leaves into it. “The human idea of true love.”
“How romantic!” Mesilde added.
Endan just sat there smiling, thinking of Citlally. As much as it pained him to be without her, to still be missing so many memories, the very thought of her brought him comfort. He was hers, through and through. He knew that they would one day get back together, no matter what fool’s quest he had to go through in order to have her safely in his arms once again.
* ** *** ** *
A few hours later, after Endan had fallen asleep from the exhaustion of recalling his dreams, a signal came down to Sendrick’s laboratory. He was just finishing up his latest back-ups – the human’s dreams included – when one of his screens started to blink with a red light. He pressed a button beside it and a familiar face appeared on the screen. Callina looked over and recognized that it was another riran.
“Doctor, we’re here,” the face on the screen said.
“Good,” Sendrick told him. “Start loading everyone on board. I will be up with the human soon.
“Will do, doctor, but…”
“What?” the old man grumbled. He wanted to finish packing up his lab.
“It’s really hot up here. We can set up the ice shield to scare off the rakka rakka for a couple of hours, but you will have to work fast.”
“I will get as many men as I can spare off the cooling system to help load the cargo. Remember, the more you get on board, the more I pay you. Do what you can and keep in touch.”
Sendrick shut off the screen and typed in the code to contact several other terminals. He sent of word throughout the bunker that their ship had arrived, and to load everything that they were taking onto it as fast as possible. The ship’s crew would be helping. The bunker was to be kept cool so that the lifts would function well enough to make loading easier, and the final evacuation notice would be sent out when he was ready. Anything left behind would eventually but scorched by the rakka rakka, so they had only one chance to get this right.
Callina rushed down the hall to Endan’s room and shook him awake. She pulled a suitcase out from under his bed as he sat up groggily, and began to fill it with the human clothes from his dresser. She moved frantically as she explained what was going on, and he nodded and rubbed his head. Then he looked down and noticed a length of black wool, woven into something long that sparkled even in that dismal place. He pulled it out from the pile of clothes, ignoring the pink-eyed woman’s protests.
“The scarf…” he whispered as he ran his fingers through the fabric. “I was holding onto Citlally’s scarf…”
“It’s a bit hot out there for a scarf now,” Callina told him, not paying enough attention to register that he was talking about something that belonged to his beloved. She finished packing his suitcase and zipped it shut. “Get your shoes on and carry this with you everywhere until you’re on the shuttle. We are leaving soon.”
He looked up at her and nodded, though she worried that he was in too much of a daze to really be paying attention.
“I have to go help load the ship. Get your shoes on,” she repeated, “and go wait with my grandfather and your suitcase in his lab.”
“Yeah…” Endan told her. “Sure.”
He stood up and looked around the room for his shoes. Callina gave a worried sigh, pushed them towards him, and dashed out of the room. Alone, Endan wrapped the scarf securely around his neck and slipped his feet into his shoes. As distracted as he was by the scarf that he’d found, he did as Callina told him and took the suitcase to Sendrick’s laboratory. Once there, he helped the doctor pack up a few last-minute boxes.
A series of crewmen passed in and out of the lab, carrying away boxes as quickly as they could. It was the longest, most tense hour that Endan had been through in a while. It was starting to get hotter in the bunker, and he was sweating by the time the old man gave any hint of being done.
“This is enough,” Sendrick finally said, though disappointment lined his tone. “If we don’t get going now, we might not be able to get up to the surface.”
Sendrick went over to his last hunk of machinery, one that he had decided not to take with him, and accessed the intercom system. He sent out the final order to evacuate. Anyone not aboard the ship in the next five minutes would be left behind. He nodded to Endan and told him to follow him.
The human grabbed his suitcase and followed Sendrick through another door in the lab, one that he himself had not taken before. They rushed through several hallways, up a flight of stairs, and then into an open foyer. Several aliens, most of them riran, were gathered there. A pink-skinned girl pushed through the crowd and ran up to Sendrick.
“Grandfather!” she shouted, flinging her arms around him.
The old man smiled and patted her back. While they waited for the lift to come back down, Callina looked over at Endan.
“Oh good, you brought the suitcase.”
He nodded, and when the doors to the wide elevator opened, they all stepped aboard. Sendrick pressed the button to take them to the surface, and it took a few moments until they got there. Endan was not at all prepared for what he would see when the doors opened.
Much of the land was on fire, and where it wasn’t, the ground was gray with ash, and something was big burning off in the distance. The lift was the only thing like a building on the surface, and it looked like it had been through hell. Callina had to pull on Endan’s arm to get him to step out of the lift so that its doors could close and it could go back down for another load of passengers.
“It’s so hot out here!” he complained, wiping the sweat from his brow. He had been in a desert before, but this was far worse.
“It’s the lava river,” Callina told him, pointing to a glowing line in the distance. “Just hurry and get onto the ship.”
The other Rirans were already rushing across what seemed like a kind of landing pad. Endan followed along slowly, looking around himself the whole time. There was a bluish hemisphere above him, which looked somewhat like ice.
“Curse your curious human nature,” Sendrick shouted. “Just run!”
The old man grabbed his other arm and rushed him along, the suitcase flopping clumsily between them. They climbed up the ramp that led into the waiting ship, and several Rirans greeted them warmly.
“Good to have you aboard at last, doctor,” one of them told him.
Sendrick nodded to him. “Good of you to come all this way, captain.”
“What can I say, old man? You pay quite well!”
They laughed together for a moment, and Endan peered back out at the heated landscape. The last few aliens were coming off the lift, and the captain was starting to issue orders to collapse the shielding. Just beyond the veil of thin blue ice, Endan could see a body with bright red skin. It crouched down low and hissed at them.
“One of the rakka rakka,” Callina finished for him. “Nasty, aren’t they?”
“They look exactly like… demons,” Endan replied, giving her a serious yet worried look.
“We all have our nightmares,” she said. The ramp was raising to shut, and she led him to another part of the ship. “Yours is losing the one you love.”
“Yea… I guess it is.”
The captain took Endan and the others to a seating area, and everyone strapped in. The faint sound of shattering ice could be heard from outside, and the ship’s systems powered up and prepared for departure. A few minutes after the captain left to take the helm, Endan could feel the ship lifting off the surface of the fiery planet.
So I am escaping another hell, Endan thought to himself. Through a wide-paneled window, he watched the sky darken, the red fade into gray and then black. But for him, the real hell would not end before until he held Citlally in his arms.
A few hours after they’d left Old Sypherie behind, another ship, this one somewhat smaller, flew up to the riran ship and docked with them. The captain didn’t seem troubled by the visitors, and invited Endan and Sendrick to join him as he met with them.
In the meeting room, there was a long table, and everyone took a seat at it. The captain introduced anyone who did not already know one another. There was a tall man with a mane of blond hair from the other ship. He looked like a cross between a lion and a wolf, as absurd as that sounded to Endan when he noticed it. He wore a brown leather jacket on his wide shoulders, the style once popular with jet pilots a few centuries ago on Earth, and what looked like other clothes from the human home-world.
“This is Mannarius Klavernning,” the captain explained.
“The third,” Mannarius added with a grin.
“As you like it,” the captain conceded. “And Endan, right now he is the best friend that you have in the galaxy.”
“And why is that?” the human asked, intrigued but also a little impatient.
“Because he is going to help you find the woman you love.”
End of Part One of No Distance Greater than the Stars
1“The Wooing of Olwen,” a Celtic fairy tale, adapted from Celtic Fairy Tales, by Joseph Jacobs, , at sacred-texts.com