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04 October 2009 @ 05:21 pm
He Dreams by Rhi (vipersweb)  
Title: He Dreams
Author: Rhi (vipersweb)
Character: Darius
Prompt: Druidic/over the hills and far away
Word Count: ~1800
Warning/Rating: PG-13; depiction of blood sacrifice
Summary: Darius never expected the lasting legacy of the last Immortal he beheaded.

He dreams. Dreams of a time before, a time when he (he, but not he, other) and his brethren held places of power and recognition, of reverence amongst the people. No need to hide who he was. Chants in a language he knows he never learned, doesn’t know and yet… he does. Histories and mysteries of a people he never met. It swirls within him, whispering secrets to a world he never knew.

He’s not young, but he’s also not old (doesn’t even come close to the eldest) and yet... Darius sometimes remembers centuries before his birth, remembers the land as it once was. He was born (found) after the Romans (hated enemies, burned and sacked at his command) had crushed the Druids into submission and hiding. He shouldn’t remember, shouldn’t know their deepest and most prized secrets, not as he does.

He ignores his excess knowledge. Or tries to.

But at night, when his own mind is most vulnerable, when Morpheus rules his domain as much as any petty warlord who demands perfect obedience from his minions, the dreams come. Hazy, half-formed, they flit through his mind, speaking of the past and mystical truths he should not know. Does not think he wants to know.

He tries to banish the thoughts, the dreams, the memories of a time where he danced amongst the trees and standing stones, calling down the blessings of the Mother. Memories he shouldn’t have, yet does.

Never before has he heard of this. Quickenings should not leave more than an imprint, a brief moment of onslaught as the Immortal’s soul is consumed and subsumed into the winner’s. He is still Darius but there is a tenor to him that he never knew before. Emrys does not want to let go of his soul. He haunts him and if - only if - he really believed in the power of the Almighty, would he consider an exorcism. Except it probably wouldn’t work. Emrys has tentacles deep inside him, changing him, forcing him to remember a time and a place and a people so very different, yet so similar to his own.

He hates it. He hates having knowledge he knows he shouldn’t. Emrys laughs in his dreams, whispers enticements, tells him to listen.

It takes months. Months of searching through scarce books, of speaking with men and women who meet with him in furtive little alleys. But then, he finds what he needs. And as he wards the last part of his mind from Emrys, he hears a chuckle and a warning that it won’t be enough.

It is, though. The dreams stop and he no longer hears the wind whistling its tales as it travels over the hills and from far away. Birds no longer tweet and share with him their gossip of lands far distant from here. The earth doesn’t groan beneath his feet, bringing him comfort and the assurance of eternity.

He thinks he’s safe.

Time passes, as it always does. The small garrison town in which he settled, grows into a true city. Not as grand as Rome in its heyday, but Darius knows it is only a matter of time. Paris has proven tenacious, refusing to disappear as so many similar towns did. He finds a home in the New Religion, welcomed as a holy brother. He plays his role well, even if he doesn’t particularly believe in the entire message he preaches.

There still exists enough of the Old religion to keep questions of his unaging visage away for many decades. Fairy-touched, they whisper and he smiles mysteriously rather than tell them the truth. His fellow priests believe he’s a messenger from their God, a view he half-heartedly tries to discourage. He will not set himself up as a deity or demi-god. He’s seen what happens to Immortals that go down that route.

He preaches peace; his flock listens intently and then goes out to make war. He loses the warrior physique of which he had once been so proud. His hands become hardened from a sedentary and agricultural life; the calluses gained from years of sword use begin to disappear, replaced by proof of his now pacifist life. He leaves his strategy to games: senet, tabula, latrunculi.

Immortals occasionally travel through his city. Some mock his decision to remain on holy ground, remembering his legend, remembering who he once was. Others relish the chance to cultivate a relationship with an Immortal that will not result in one or the other’s death, who’s willing to listen and give them advice. He finds he’s far more content with his peaceful life than ever he thought he would be.

It doesn’t last. How can it? Emrys is gone, banished into a dark corner of his mind, warded against interfering with his life. He’s happier without random knowledge haunting his dreams or the feeling that he should be doing something to honor the Mother and the Father and their children - pagan gods whose worship have fallen into fallow.

It starts simple. The earth moves beneath him, asking for something. Each day and night it groans louder, convinced he can help. The wind blows from over the hills and far away, speaking of events of which he shouldn’t have knowledge, begging for succor. He cries out in the night, hearing and feeling pain that leaves behind phantom bruises and cuts. The birds begin to whistle, small animals chatter in his path - all trying to tell him something he just does not understand.

Books cannot help him this time. The old folklore has all but disappeared in light of the Church and its determination to make good Christians out of all the people of the world. None of the older Immortals to whom he sends messages, hoping they might offer some small piece of advice or proffer a solution, answer him. He feels a sense of urgency and he doesn’t know why.

See, Emrys chuckles one night. See. I told you it wouldn’t work. The vanquished Immortal (but is he really vanquished if he didn’t even fight to keep his own head? If he still exists within Darius’ soul, as whole as when he had his own body?) patiently listens as Darius curses. Why won’t he settle, like every other quickening he’s taken over the years?

Finally, in a fit of pique he demands to know what he must do. Listen he’s told. So he does.

Find it, the earth groans. Protect us the wind whispers. Please! the birds tweet.

He packs a small bag full of provisions and dresses to go on pilgrimage. He sets out, not knowing where he’ll end up. He has a feeling he’ll know when he finds it and lets the earth and the wind and the birds and the small animals guide him. He heads west, paralleling where he once marched at the head of his army. He spends his nights dreaming; vague ones that do not give him answers but leave him feeling frustrated.

He walks. Through forests, over hills, until he is far away from all that he’s known in these last peaceful years. The seasons begin to change around him, the summer heat slowly becoming cooler. Harvest time nears and he wonders if he will find what he needs before winter sets in. He doesn’t relish camping out in the cold.

The pull grows stronger. He brightens; hoping it means his journey will soon be at an end. His footsteps hasten down the overgrown tracks. Once perhaps, people had frequented these same trails, their constant passage smoothing and taming the woods. But no one has graced it for many years.

It seems almost accidental, when he stumbles upon it. Standing stones with a waning power that continues to feebly pour off it. Here. Here, the wind and the earth and animals and the birds chant. Here. Sacrifice here.

This last part causes him to stumble. Sacrifice? What sacrifice? Look, and Emrys pushes to the forefront of his mind memories of ancient Druids and their rituals. The Old religion is all but dead, remaining only in whispered folktales as warnings. The Druids have disappeared into the mists of time but they still have a task for him.

Blood sacrifice - even sacrifice of a life - is not new to him. Did he not ride at the side of the Visigoths? Sacrificing an animal - or even a person - brought the gods attention and with it - hopefully - success. He preaches of sacrifice - the Son of God, who died for the sins of man.

What am I to do? he asks of the presence in his mind. He is resigned to his task, knowing he’ll have no peace until he does as Emrys and the earth itself wishes him to do.

The stones require blood. Blood to sanctify and renew. Immortal or mortal - it doesn’t matter what kind. The Mother will be satisfied with the offering of life and grant her protection once again.

Darius nods, understanding what must be done. He removes his belt knife and moves to stand in the middle of the circle. With barely a flinch, he slashes his arms deeply - almost to the bone so that the quickening energy will not heal him too soon - and drips blood into the center before walking and anointing each stone. He ignores the weakness that engulfs his limbs from the blood loss. At last, he returns to the center and lays down as the sacrificial lamb. His blood pours into the earth, his quickening seeming to understand his purpose as he wounds heal at a slow rate.

The earth accepts his gift, pleased with what he has offered. He sees what must be memories from Emrys; of others doing as he has done, of the Mother accepting the sacrifice and offering Her protection to Her children.

When it is all done, he returns to Paris. Emrys returns to the warded area of his mind. Darius knows well enough that when it is time again, he will return. The earth purrs in thanks, the wind caresses his face, and the birds flit before him.

His brothers welcome him back to their fold. Life goes on, as if he had never left. And yet, he sees evidence of his sacrifice at work. The crops are bountiful, people are healthy, and a peace has descended on the area.

He wonders some nights, if he had not warded Emrys and his memories away, whether he would have known what to expect, if this strange burden he now carries would have been explained long before the need to wander around the countryside had come. Emrys remains stubbornly quiet in his mind, with not even the wisp of a memory to tease out an answer. It bothers him, but he accepts it, just as he has come to accept the peaceful life he now leads. He knows Emrys remains with him. Perhaps one day, he will speak without riddles. Until then, he is content.

Author’s Note: The Immortal Darius beheads in front of Lutèce is named Emrys in the Highlander novel, Shadow of Obsession. It seemed as good a name as any to use. At the time of the fall of the Roman Empire, Lutèce was not a true town or city, but instead a garrison town entrenched in the central island. Lutèce once again became known as Paris towards the end of the Roman occupation. The Frankish king, Clovis I named Paris his capital in 508. Druids were considered philosophers and theologians. They held positions of power amongst the Gallic tribes. They had a long oral tradition and did practice human sacrifice. Not much is known about them, their practices or their beliefs, in part because the Romans did their best to eradicate them. I used a lot of supposition based on some small amount of research I was able to do. The strategy games Darius mentions were games played by the Romans: tabula is akin to backgammon, senet is of Egyptian origin and latrunculi is similar to chess.
fractured_sunfractured_sun on October 4th, 2009 05:07 pm (UTC)
Brilliant I do so love fics about Darius and the light quickening.
Rhi: Castielvipersweb on October 13th, 2009 02:54 am (UTC)
Cheers! It is a fascinating thing to think about, isn't it? Really, if the quickening could change his personality to such an extent, what else could it have done or left behind?
diane: Scenery WWFdswdiane on October 4th, 2009 07:25 pm (UTC)
Beautifully written, Rhi. Wonderful job of getting inside of the mind of Darius after the light quickening and a very nice take on who Emrys might have been and what tradition from which he came.
Rhi: eric idlevipersweb on October 13th, 2009 02:59 am (UTC)
Thank you for the lovely compliments. To be honest, as soon as I realized just what name had been given to the Immortal Darius had received the light quickening from, I knew what culture he would be from. It also helps that I had just finished Prince of Annwn by Evangaline Walton, which is the first book in her re-telling of the Mabinogion when I sat down to write this, so had Druids on the brain. And I've always been curious to see just what else Emrys might have left behind in Darius besides the light quickening.
fuzzyenviropony on October 5th, 2009 03:15 am (UTC)
Very cool. I love the slow progression, and the contrasts and comparisons between the new and old religions. Naming actual period games that Darius would have played is a great touch, too. Nicely done.
Rhi: Valavipersweb on October 13th, 2009 03:02 am (UTC)
thanks! I was going to use chess, but double-checked to see when it had spread to Europe and discovered this was set way too early for it. Thankfully, the internet had some answer on strategy games from the Roman period. I figured he'd know them.

A lot of the old/new religion aspects were influenced by the fact that I had just finished reading Prince of Annwn by Evangeline Walton and there is a lot of tension in that between the Old and New Religions and Druids.

Thanks for commenting.
Kay: duncan -- coldsilvercobwebs on October 5th, 2009 10:58 pm (UTC)
Lovely atmospheric work, and a genuinely interesting and intriguing look into the character. Thanks for sharing this.
Rhi: kik and lifevipersweb on October 13th, 2009 03:03 am (UTC)
thanks! Glad you enjoyed this. I had a fun time writing it.