THE QUIET MEN
Because I will be traveling this week, and won't be able to post on Wednesday, here is another chapter in the saga. Ran
Chapter 16 : Justin's POV
In Ariel's big black limo, I sit close to Brian and he holds my hand so tightly that it's almost painful. He's as tense as piano wire, and I'm as scared as a little girl. What the fuck are we doing? Going to the Monster's Ball, from all appearances. But why? Gus, I guess. Making sure Gus is okay. Or is there another reason? Some curiosity Brian can't admit to, a race memory linking him to another world of beings, a world he never knew existed. Ariel intrudes on my reverie.
"Let me warn you about something. All of the Unseelie Court has powers of destruction that vary greatly, but none come unequipped. So beware of all. The bean sidhe, or `banshee' as your folk would say is perhaps the least harmful as these womenfolk are merely harbringers of doom, not deliverers of destruction. And yet they seem to frighten your kind with their ghostly demeanor and red eyes and wailing voices. Unless you see a bean sidhe washing your grave clothes, you've nothing to fear from them. "
I look at Brian, who shrugs and holds my hand even more tightly. Ariel continues with his cast of horribles.
"The ones to watch most are the Selkies, who also go by the name of the Roanes. They often live as seal-like creatures on the coast, but they can come on land and shed their sealskins and appear as the most beautiful man or woman you have ever seen. They are a breed of succubus, or incubus, depending on gender, which means they drain you of your life force through the power of their seduction. Know them by the feel of their flesh. It's like smooth, cold rubber to the touch, like those suits your folk wear when swimming in chilly waters. That feel is the only warning you will get from the Selkie before they suck you dry of your vigor and leave you an empty shell of skin and bone."
"Only you could make sucking sound like a bad thing," Brian quips and I have to smile. He's so funny, even now.
"Avoid the Selkies," Ariel says firmly. "Point of fact, avoid most everyone in the Unseelie Court. Stay close to me."
"Tell me again why your kind mingles with their kind?" I ask and he gives me that impatient glare that reminds me of just how superfluous I really am to him. I suppose the only reason I'm not in the belly of some peat monster is because they figure my demise might just depress my partner. I suppose I should be grateful for the small things.
"I've explained that before. Every coin has two sides. The Tuatha de Danaan has the Seelie and the Unseelie Courts. Both are loyal to the monarchs. We accord each other our due respect."
"Was that one of those Unseelie guys who did that to Brian while we were at Trinity?"
"You need to sharpen your listening skill, Brian's Justin. I told ye before, it were the Rebels. The Rebels are not in the Courts. The Rebels are against our unification with your lot."
Brian sighs. "It's Ireland, you know there have to be rebels somewhere, even in fairyland. It's the way these people are."
I look at him and laugh. "What do you mean, `these' people? You're `these' people, Brian."
"Hey, I'm a fucking American!"
"Not in the blood."
He shakes his head, and peers out at the night's traffic. We arrive at the cemetery, but we aren't the only limo inside the gates. It seems all the best fairies are traveling by limo these days. I guess their little wings get tired. We get out of the car, struck by the silliness of the event. But then I grab Brian's arm in terror. Ahead is a tall marble crypt. Above the entry to the mausoleum are three ghastly women, with matted hair that streams moss and murky water into pale contorted faces lit with red eyes as if the tears they appear to be weeping are made of acid. They make horrible wailing noises, and wear grave-gray colored shawls over mossy green gowns.
"Bain sidhes," Ariel says with a matter of fact shrug as we approach the portal. Brian is holding my hand so tightly, I can feel his nails bite into my skin. I take my free hand and wrap it over his arm, trying to disappear into him. At the portal, the neon lit name "Sidhe" appears over the entrance, once again heralding a club that shouldn't be where it is. The same giant man is at the door. We get the same hand stamps, but Ariel gets none. Beyond us is a long flight of stairs, leading down to the crypt, and thus to the party. Headbanger music blasts from below. The music makes me feel as if I'm appearing in an eighties movie about teens going to forbidden hard core clubs.
As we start down, a herd of rats comes thundering up from the crypt and I shout a warning to Brian, who is up the steps and out the door so fast, you'd think he was an Olympic medalist. Brian doesn't like vermin. Ariel follows him out like a patient shepherd tailing a recalcitrant lamb. The rats, in the moonlight, are even scarier, because they walk on two legs, carry shillelaghs topped with tiny silver skulls, and wear rough leather clothes over their dark, hairy bodies. They have rat faces and tails, but they speak to each other in Gaelic. They're no taller than two feet, and they kow-tow to Ariel, who nods in their direction. They seem annoyed by Brian's overreaction, and he looks decidedly sheepish, keeping with my earlier analogy.
"They're merely Fir Darigs," Ariel says with a disgusted frown as we walk past the guardian yet again. "Rat boys, they are called by your kind. They've very little power to do harm. If ye be so frightened of the Fir Darigs, you'll never get through this night with your wits intact, Brian."
My partner levels a glare at the sylph. Christ, now I'm calling him the sylph, as if I know what that means!
"I just don't like rats or mice," Brian says and I repress a smile and hold tightly to him as we start down the stairs yet again. We pause midway, once more, as a small creature deposits himself on Ariel's shoe and quickly changes from toad to mouse to chipmunk to hedgehog and back to a weird little creature again. Ariel lifts it on the palm of his hand, smiles, and leaves it a couple steps up from us.
"Shapeshifter," he says by way of explanation. "Benign."
We aren't even in the main room yet, and I am totally creeped. We get to that room, finally, and Brian and I both pause. There's no mistaking this crowd for the norm, not like the ones at the first club, who could almost pass as human. Here, the tiles have fallen away from our eyes. There are so many freaks, Ariel can't name them all, and I realize I can't tell a ballybog from a clurichaun. The centaurs are back in their studly leather to keep the peace, and I want a batwing really badly. Brian intervenes. "Don't drink anything," he advises. "Or take anything. Let's try to keep our heads clear this time."
"Not much of a crowd, is there?" I hear one absolutely monstrous thing saying to another. They look like they were created from leftover parts unused in other lifeforms. Oddly enough, they talk like the matchmaker in that John Wayne movie, `The Quiet Man'.
"And why would there be, Paddy O'Michael O'Flynn? We're not near the sea, now are we? I said if we hold the festivities away from the sea, a good portion of our kind won't even be able to attend. None of the Murdhuchas will come, now will they? Can't be out of water that long. Nor the sirens nor the water sprites...it's a waste. Surprised to see the Selkies have come inland."
"I did'na see a Selkie."
"Right there, you fool. The fair one, he be the Selkie. Look at the beauty."
I realize they're discussing me, and the other pulls his hideous face into a scowl. "He's no Selkie, fool, he's no' even sidhe!"
"He is so sidhe!"
"Touch him! He be warm!"
"Uh, Brian..." I back away a step, but faster than light, the gnarled little hand brushes my arm and then withdraws, muttering as the other laughs at his foolishness.
"What the fuck?" Brian insists and I shudder, shrug. A beautiful woman interrupts, and beautiful is an understatement. She is probably the most gorgeous creature I've ever seen, every feature perfect and her body is completely visible beneath a transparent gown of pale green. Her hair is fiery red, both on her head and on her snatch, and her eyes are golden.
"You," she says to Brian, drawing that one word into a sentence. "You come with me. I'll make you burn and then I'll show you paradise."
She speaks in a strangely hypnotic whisper and even I am getting a little wood, listening to her and taking in her beauty. Brian frowns and reaches out to touch her breast, sliding his hand inside her gown. He meets my eyes and says, "Neoprine. She's one of them."
I touch her arm, deciding the breast is a bit too familiar. She feels like the dolphins I once fed at Sea World, all slick and cold and rubbery. She's a Selkie. Found out, she curses at us in Gaelic and withdraws. "Women," Brian quips. "Always on a quest to convert you."
I giggle and now a man as perfect as the woman was approaches us and looks from one of us to the other. He's dressed in black leather pants and a black silk shirt and exhibits a lot of cocky attitude. He's like a New York queen visiting the `burbs. He's gorgeous, however, and not as spooky as she was. "Who wants to dance?" he asks and Brian sighs. He touches a knuckle to the guys chiseled cheek and shakes his head. "Cold. Slick. One of them."
Ariel intervenes and gets into it with the Selkie, who argues back, both speaking in a language we can't decipher. "You big quaire," the Selkie shouts out at Ariel as he slinks away and Ariel huffs. "Look in the mirror, lad."
Brian and I exchange a look. This could have happened at Babylon between two pretty queens. Some truths are universal. "You did very well against the Selkies so far," Ariel said. "But dinna be fooled, Brian. You'll still have many tests to pass tonight. Ah, the Quiet Men arrive."
We look towards the stairs, but we're looking in the wrong direction. The others are looking down, and sure enough, a troop of men file in from the depths of the crypt. They look almost like priests, in their austere black cloaks and black hats, with their pale, sexless faces and tall, willowy bodies. Their limbs appear attenuated, and their fingers are bony and skeletal. They all look similar, but there are differences in coloring, facial features, age. All are male, all are deadly quiet, beyond silent, stilled as if they exist on a slightly altered plane. There are twelve of them, and they stare straight ahead as they sit together on a dais created of marble tombs. I realize a receiving line has begun, with all the guests expected to troop past this tribunal, as a sign of respect. I pull at Brian's arm. I very much don't want to do this.
"Let's go," I plead and he pauses, frowns. He looks from the Quiet Men to the portal and I know he's trying to decide. Ariel decides for him.
"Come, Brian," he says, taking his arm from me and looping it through his. "Meet the Quiet Men, leaders of the Unseelie Court."
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July 25, 2004