The village was always cold, with silver clouds filling up the sky. A handful of times have I truly basked in the glory of the sun and only when I was a child; too young to appreciate the glow. The village grew accustom to the dullness, myself included, it was about as odd as a chicken laying an egg.
There was something that no one could ever become normalized and that was the Banshees. Tales say their arrival was a curse upon the village, why the curse existed was long forgotten or erased from history entirely. The creatures tend to stay at the port, cutting off all outside travel leaving the village trapped in a foggy nightmare.
Since as far back as anyone in the village can remember the banshee’s have existed, their only goal to wander our port in search of girls to abduct, attacking anyone who dare cross their path. Our only means of defense is The Guild. A small but dedicated group of proud swordsmen and women who risk themselves to shield the village. They are a noble band of fierce people who gain the respect of everyone, a band I am grateful to be part of.
Since I was a child I watched the skilled sword wielders parade through our village and through the forest towards the port, with nothing but admiration in my eyes. I had made it my life goal to join them and thought of nothing else. My obsession took up most of my time to the point where I’d stay up late into the night. Mother would always scold me with a sharp smack to the ear whenever she’d find me in bed with a lit candle and book on my lap.
“Little boys and girls need their rest,” she would say, as she pried the book from my hands. “The Guild don’t accept sleepy-heads into their ranks.”
She would place the book into her stained apron pouch before planting a kiss on my head.
Of course I protested her taking away my book. “If I don’t study then it won’t matter if I am well-rested or not.” A sour look on my face and resentment of her kiss.
My mother looked at me her face scrunched up, putting deep fear that I’d receive another smack in my heart. The smack never came, instead she just knelt down at my bedside and tucked me in.
“Don’t worry, tomorrow I’ll plan something so you won’t have any more of these late nights.”
I had no idea what she was talking about, throughout the night I tried to guess what she had in store for me. Would she have someone tutor me, was my first idea. Then I remembered how little money my family made and a tutor was well out of our price range. My next guess was that she’d actually contact The Guild and have them train me personally. The guess was far-fetched as I was her only daughter and there was no way she’d allow me to travel so far from home. I still imagined it, however. Some children go off to train with The Guild at very young ages and I always envied them with harsh spite. They lived something which I had only experienced in dreams and daytime’s fantasies.
The night I pictured myself fighting alongside the children I was jealous of and outshining them in all forms. I pictured their surprised faces with such clarity that it almost felt real. My fantasy was broken when I felt a tug at my blankets.
I looked up to see the tired face of my younger brother. At the small age of eight he was but a mere babe who still hadn’t gotten over of his fear of the dark. He stood by my bedside in a shirt too large for his thin frame, rubbing his teary eyes with a long sleeve.
“What is it Oisin?” I hissed quietly so as not to disturb my parents slumber.
“A-a noise,” he murmured, chocking back on his tears.
I rolled my eyes and held up my blankets for him. Within seconds he scurried beside me settling himself by my side. I draped my arm over him keeping him secured beside me.
“You can’t keep running to me like this, Oisin. One day I won’t be here and you’ll have to stay in your own bed,” I scolded him with the same tone my parents had when I was a bairn.
“But you’re here right now, Aoife,” was his small reply.
I clicked my tongue in annoyance but held him closer nevertheless. “You’re right,” I mumbled. “Just go to sleep.”
His dark hair tickled me as he nodded. I stayed up to hear his breathing shallow and once I was satisfied he was in a deep sleep I too began to close my eyes.
When morning came mother awoke us with a cheery smile on her face but a look of exhaustion in her eyes.
“Time to get up!” she called, pulling the blankets off of us.
The sudden waking caused us to flinch and grunt, our tired eyes blinked open to stare at our mother. Stray hairs tangled out of her bun and framed her olive face but mostly covered her moss eyes.
“Up, up, up!” she sang as she whisked towards us, fingers outstretched.
Her bony fingers wiggled at our sides causing my brother and myself to giggle uncontrollably. Our legs kicked outwards and our arms flailed around as we desperately tried to squirm away from her. We managed to fall off the bed and landed down onto the wooden floor with a thump, all while laughing.
“Hurry up and get dressed you two, you have ten minutes before I come back and give you a worse punishment,” she frantically wiggled her fingers towards us.
Oisin ran towards the dresser a cheery scream coming from his throat. Mother exited our room holding back her own chuckle as she did so.
Once she had gone I turned towards Oisin who was frantically pulling out garments from the dresser. I scolded him for his manic actions and told him to stand back. Oisin never did as he was told and wandered over to sit and the edge of the bed watching me pick out his clothing. I threw him his outfit for the day and told him to start getting dressed. Once he began to strip out of his night-time shirt I then turned my attention to my own clothing. In order to save time I pulled on whatever was seen first.
Once we were both fully dressed we walked through into the kitchen where mother had put down our breakfast. Normally mother would watch over us as we ate but that day she seemed to just vanish. I tried to look out the window toward the chicken pens but she was nowhere to be found.
“Where’s mother?” Oisin asked, stuffing his face with food.
I shrugged my shoulders and began to tuck into my own meal. Just as we finished up our breakfast mother came in through the front door, her chest was heaving and she held something behind her back.
I moved to try and get a good look at what she was holding but she kept it too well hidden for me to see.
“I’m glad to see you’re all finished,” she said with a smile. “Now go into the front garden.”
Mother jerked her head towards the front door. Oisin was out like a bolt of lightning but I took my time, I tried once again to get a look at what she had behind her back. Only at the edges of her skirt could I see some kind of brown material. It was a sack. She was holding some sort of sack.
“Stop trying to see Aoife; just go outside.”
With a semi-pouted lip I waltzed out into the front garden where Oisin stood looking at something. Once I got outside, I looked around the garden. Stacks of hay with target marks painted on them were lined up, as were many training dummies. I stared at them, confused for a few moments. I looked back at my mother who stood by the doorway, holding up the sack.
“What is this mother?” I asked.
She knelt down between Oisin and myself before holding open the sack. Inside was a beat-up but still decent bow, a quiver filled with quality arrows, and a leather scabbard with a sword hilt sticking out the top.
Joy filled my being as I stared down at the components, my mouth slowly widened as I took in all the information. In one big burst my joy was let out.
“Oh, thank you mother!” I practically screamed as I threw my arms over my mother’s neck and tightened my grip around her.
Out of seemingly nowhere, my father appeared, a smile on his face as he looked down at us. I let go of my mother and stood down to look up at him. Mother left the sack on the ground and stood up straight.
“You look very happy Aoife,” he said. “You’re mother spent all night working on these.”
“Really, mother?” asked Oisin, his eyes filled with awe at mother.
“Not all night darling-”
Father cut her off. “Stop being modest. Mother was still working when I got up to tend the sheep.”
“You did all this for me mother?” I asked, picking up the sword and looking at it gleefully.
“Yes,” she said. “I did it for you and Oisin.”
My head snapped up at the mention of my brother’s name. Oisin had no interest in fighting, he was just a little boy who could barely throw a rock never mind handle a sword. It baffled me that my mother would include him, I actually thought my ears were playing tricks on me.
I looked at my little brother who was studying the arrows at his feet.
“Yes, the two of you could train together. I’ve worn off my fair share of banshee’s in my time so-”
I cut my mother off by slamming down the sword. “But Oisin is weak! He can’t train too!”
“Aoife-” my father started to scold me but I didn’t give him the chance.
“Oisin is lucky he can even put his boots on in the morning! He sleeps next to me every night because he fears the noises by our window! There’s no way he could ever hope to get into something as high class and as powerful as The Gui-”
A slap across my face stopped my ranting any further.
“How dare you speak of your brother that way!” bellowed my mother, her face red with hot fury.
I put a hand to my burning cheek and saw my father cradling Oisin in his arms as he suffocated on his sobs.
“It’s our job – and yours – to look after Oisin! We do not put down family members nor do we insult them as they stand right beside us!”
She grabbed my arm and yanked me towards the house. “Stay in your room until I say you can come out!”
I trudged my legs back into the house and into our bedroom. Once I was there I threw myself onto the bed and screamed violently into the pillow. My muffled screams continued well into mid-day before I finally exhausted myself and fell into a hateful sleep.
Nightmares plagued my slumbers. I dreamed that I was a small beggar in a busy town, holding my hands out to anyone who walked by, asking for coin. Without warning a parade of The Guild members walked through the streets all of them led by Oisin. Everyone flocked to him with admiration but he stopped at me.
“Look at who is weak now, big sister,” he mocked me before spitting in my face.
All the townsfolk began to laugh at me, as did the rest of The Guild members. Right then and there I wanted to die, I wanted to curl up and let death take me into its embrace – allowing me freedom from the hellish dream which felt so real at the time.
Once again I awoke to a tug at my blankets. There stood Oisin, wearing his over-sized night shirt only his eyes were dry and there was a look of shame on his face.
“I’m sorry,” a hushed mumble came from his mouth.
I knitted my brows together and looked at him with sharp eyes. Still feeling hurt from my dream, I pulled the blankets over my head and made him face my back.
“I promise I won’t train with you.”
I made a sarcastic snorting sound.
“But you have to go say sorry to mother and father. They’re really angry at you, I tried to tell them it was my fault but they won’t listen to me,” I could hear the sadness in his voice. He sniffed before continuing to speak again. “I don’t want mother and father being mad at you because of me. Please Aoife.” He started to sob and I couldn’t help it but roll my eyes and throw off my blankets.
“Fine,” I grunted as I walked out of the bedroom.
Slowly I creaked down the hall and into the kitchen where my parents stood talking to each other.
“She must learn,” I heard my mother snap.
“But she’s been in her room all day, you cannot stay mad at her forever, dear,” mumbled my father.
I heard a sigh from my mother. “An older sister must look after their siblings at all times and help them to grow. When she said those horrid things about Oisin she wasn’t helping him grow. I cannot have a child of mine being like that.”
“I understand that but-”
“But you don’t understand, Diarmuid! You’re an only child. You don’t understand what it’s like to have siblings,” I could hear my mother fighting with the emotion in her voice.
It was then that I remembered my father saying something years before about my mother. Her own sister – my aunt – was taken from their family long ago. I understood then why mother had given me such a harsh punishment. She had lost her own sibling and when I disrespected Oisin it must have reminded her of her own younger sister. Guilt filled a bitter feeling in bottom of my stomach.
I appeared into the doorway, my head hung low utterly ashamed at myself. I wanted to give a long winded apology but the words ceased to form themselves out my mouth properly. So for the longest of times I just stood, looking up at my mother as she rubbed tears from her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I pathetically whimpered out. “I didn’t mean what I said.”
I looked down at my shoes awaiting a response from my parents. Suddenly I felt a weight on my shoulders, I looked up and saw my mother hugging me tightly.
“Just don’t ever do or say anything like that again. Promise,” she held me at arm’s length.
I nodded my head, unable to speak through fear that I would burst into a fit of tears.
She used the tips of her fingers to push away her own tears. “Good, now go to bed, you and Oisin will have a long hard day tomorrow.” She stood up and patted down her apron. “I want you up bright and early tomorrow.”
Once more I nodded my head and waddled back into my bedroom, my emotions made little sense to me at that time. I still hated that I had to train with Oisin but at the same time I felt glee at doing so. I didn’t understand why I felt these conflicting emotions at the time as they were new to me and something I hadn’t experienced up until that very moment.
When I got back to my room Oisin was curled up in my bed, I looked at his baby face and felt dread. He really was weak. It was then I decided that I pushed aside all of my hatred for him because of his weakness.
The next morning was the first day in long brutal years of combat training for both Oisin and I. Mother almost seemed like a slave driver at times. Each day we awoke sharply at sunrise in order to start combat training. Swordplay was where my skills lay, it was actually my favourite part of the day.
When I clutched the hilt of my sword in my hand I felt invincible. Every combat test mother threw at me which required a sword was no challenge for me. Every training dummy took a severe beating when a sword was in my hand. Bows, however, was where I stumbled.
I always seemed to miss my targets and could never master the art. Oisin seemed to grow rather fond of the bow. After some practice he could wield his bow efficiently, rarely missing any target mother set for him. His face would always light up when he saw his arrow plummet into his objective. The bow and arrow truly was his calling.
After morning practice we then would hungrily eat our breakfast and then get rushed out to help our father tend to the chores on the farm. We gained strength from moving large stacks of hay into the barn and the animal’s pens. Oisin always had a deep fear of animals, especially horses, and it took many months for him to get over his fear. One horse in particular made Oisin’s knees buckle with fright. He didn’t dare go near the white beast.
“You’ll have to stop being so scared, Oisin,” I said one day, as I fed the animal.
“It looks like it wants to eat me,” he said, hiding behind a stack of barrels.
Oisin preferred to look after the hens, and they seemed to love him for it. With his care we even managed to double the rate of eggs we got. Mother was so proud of him that it made my heart burn with jealousy.
I gave my own hand at caring for the hens but they never shined to me as much as they did for Oisin. They always ran for me and tried to get out of the pens when I came close. Oisin always had a good hard laugh as he watched me chase the chickens while screaming at them. I once even fell into a pigstie as a chicken leapt through the farmlands.
As soon as our chores were done father would usher us back into the house in time for dinner. The four of us would talk about that day’s activities; mother always praised us both on our progress and father would explain to us the chores we’d do for the next day and who would do them. Usually I would be in charge of the larger animals while Oisin would help mother with the chickens. Sometimes we swapped but that happened twice a week at most.
Once the table was cleared and our dinner had settled in our stomachs, mother gave us household cleaning tasks to do. Oisin and I shared the tasks equally and we usually did each thing together as it made things go much faster. We both hated doing the house chores. Cleaning garments especially since mother liked everything to be done in a certain way, which made things go even slower.
Her and father took that opportunity to drop into town and gather whatever supplies were needed. Sometimes they would bring back treats for us, like cakes from the baker or an expensive piece of clothing if we had done our chores especially well that day – it was a rarity though.
As the night began to set, mother would take us into our bedroom and make us study things like reading, writing, etiquette, politics and other subjects of the like. Both I and Oisin enjoyed the nights. They gave us both mental challenges which many farm children did not receive – a fact mother frequently loved to remind us of.
“Your father never got this type of education, he can barely write his own name,” she’d say, with slight smugness in her voice.
We never told this to father as it seemed like an embarrassing secret he didn’t want us to know.
When mother concluded her lessons, she’d tuck us into bed and wish us happy dreams. Not long after mother had left us to dream, Oisin would wander into my bed and sleep next to me, he did it so frequently that in the end we both just pushed our beds together so we didn’t have to disturb our sleeping patterns.
The next morning we would do the whole day over. Still sore or tired from the day before, but still eager for the day in front of us.