This is a new story that’s a sequel of sorts to Fetch. I plan on writing many, many Father Ian stories.
Adelaide Coleman lived in a two story farmhouse made from the very rocks dug up to make the land workable. It looked as though it had been standing for two hundred years. Ian stopped the car and both men climbed out.
A woman as petite as her son was large, walked to them from the front door. Her white hair was cut severely short and she wore jeans and a pale blue coat to ward off the chill. Once they were close enough she held out a hand. “Good afternoon, Father.” Her grip was one of a person who worked the land she owned.
“Mrs. Coleman. This is a friend of mine, Jared Adams.”
She nodded to the two men. “A pleasure to meet you both. Please, call me Addie, or Ma Coleman if you must.” Her eyes were a lovely soft brown and held the same good humor as her son’s often did.
Jared shook her hand next. “Ma Coleman, lovely piece of land you have here.”
“Why thank you Jared. It’s been in our family for quite some time. I have a few sheep and a vegetable garden. It’s certainly not the working farm it once was and the family doesn’t own it all anymore. We’ve had to sell off some of it.” She looked back at Ian with narrowed eyes. “So I guess you’re here to see if I’ve gone soft.”
He didn’t know how to answer that. “Well really, I’m just here to see your place and perhaps have a look around. Your son has some concerns.”
“He thinks I’m daft. Come in the house and we’ll have some tea.” She turned and walked back up to the stout wood door.
Ian looked at Jared and nearly laughed at the man’s shrug. “Cuts right to it doesn’t she?”
“Like mother, like son.” They went in and were welcomed by the scent of fresh baked bread and wood smoke. The house was spotless with plenty of natural light coming in through the large windows.
She took them to a small seating area. A tea service for three set out. Once they had their drinks, she took the men’s measure again. “I know why you’re here, Father, and I appreciate it.”
“Your son really does care about you, Addie.”
She laughed. “Oh I know he does, and he worries about me being up here all alone. The husband died, oh about five years ago. I manage, but Junior wants me to move to the city, be nearer to him.”
Ian nearly laughed at the description of their little village as the city. He motioned to the space around them. “It’s clear to me that you’re not just managing. You have a lovely home and keep it and yourself up well. I want to lay your son’s concerns to rest.”
Jared cleared his throat. “Pardon me for interrupting, I think the main reason he was worried was because of the person on your property. Can we meet him?”
Ian frowned a little at the interruption, but nodded. “Yes, if we could meet him it may lay all of your son’s fears to rest.”
Ma Coleman shrugged. “You can surely have a look around, I don’t mind that a bit. I’ve some errands to run that will take me until lunch time. I’ll want you to join me. It won’t be fancy, but it will stick to you.”
“We’d be glad to.” That would give him more time to assess her. He noticed that she hadn’t answered Jared’s question though. “About your visitor.”
“That’ll be Maon. If he lets you find him, feel free to speak to him. Fair warning, he doesn’t care for your people.” She nodded to Jared. “Or men of the cloth, Father. I rarely see him and he doesn’t get in the way. We’ve always kept to the old ways here. I still put out a bit of milk and fresh bread outside the back door, and the wee folk always take it. You probably don’t approve.”
Ian shrugged. “I have no problems with your traditions Addie. I’m not here to judge those.”
“Just my sanity.” She winked.
Ian cleared his throat and realized he was blushing.
Jared stood. “Well thank you for the tea and your time, Ma Coleman. We’ll just have a bit of a walk around your property and we’ll see you in a few hours.”
Ian joined his friend. “Yes, thanks again.”
“A pleasure.” She escorted the two to the door. “Again, be ever so careful. I’d hate anything to happen to you two. Don’t suppose I could convince you to just tell my son that I’m fine.”
Ian remembered too well the last promise he didn’t keep. “I need to be as thorough as I can.”
Jared held out a hand to his friend, still looking at Ma Coleman. “Why are you so worried? About us I mean.”
She looked past them and out into the surrounding pastures. “This is an old land, Jared. Some folk don’t respect that the way they should. She sleeps for a dozen lifetimes and wakes hungry. We forget, but she never does.”
Ian felt a chill creep along his arms. For the first time he could see a source for Coleman’s worry.
She came to herself again. “But if you boys stick to the paths you should be alright. I just don’t want you to get lost.”
“Thank you for your concern, Addie.” Ian turned and walked back to his car, followed by Jared.
They got out their equipment and began walking towards a barn in the distance. Once they were well out of earshot, Jared broke the silence. “Yeah, that wasn’t creepy at all.”
Ian wanted to smile, but couldn’t. “She’s right though, my friend, at least when it comes to forgetting. Most of us are completely ignorant of our land and its ancient history. It hasn’t been very well preserved, and the original inhabitants, if there is such a thing, are largely forgotten. It’s a shame really.”
“Coming from a country where our oldest buildings still aren’t as old as that house back there, I don’t know that I can identify.”
The men closed in on the barn. The wind picked up and the sound of metal bangin on would almost made Ian jump out of his skin. He tightened his grip on the walking stick and his left hand crept to the St. Michael’s medal in his pocket.
“Don’t do that. I don’t like it when you do that.” Jared’s voice piped up from behind him.
“Dig for your rosary. It means you’re scared.”
Ian laughed weakly. “I didn’t realize I had a tell.” He looked back to his friend. The look of horror that crossed Jared’s face made him whip back around.
The creature stood just eight feet away. He hadn’t heard it come up. Considering it was at least nine feet tall and weighed somewhere north of four hundred pounds that was surprising. It wasn’t a man, though it did have two arms, two legs, and all the features you would expect. The horns that spiraled down from its temples, nearly touching the line of its jaw, was one unexpected set. The eyes were another. He couldn’t put his finger on it, since his brain was screaming in panic, but something in those eyes made his bowels turn to liquid. He tried to find words of prayer, but fear had wiped them from his mind.
“Hello, interlopers.” A hand that could palm a dinner plate rested on the hilt of a sword at its hip. Patchwork furs covered its body. The skin he could see was a dusky gray, a pallor he’d expect of the soon to be dead. “You were warned not to come here.” It drew the sword. “What happens next is on your head.” The blade flicked out and the creature lunged forward.
“In the name of God, stop.” The words exploded from Ian’s mouth and his hand rocketed forth from his pocket. The rosary dangled in front of him.
The creature laughed, a rusty, cracking sound. “Your trinkets don’t mean anything to me.” The blade twitched, parting the strands of the rosary neatly. “Nor does your god’s name.”
Ian didn’t feel the same sort of evil he had from the demon. If this beast was supernatural, perhaps it wasn’t evil. Still, it had stopped. “Don’t kill us. Please.”
The tip of the sword drooped a little. “A priest who says ‘please’? Well that’s rare enough to listen to a while longer.” It gestured towards the barn. “Come into my house. Let it be said by none that Maon doesn’t have a sense of hospitality.”
Ian and Jared walked towards the barn. The creature, Maon, followed closely behind. Ian looked over at his friend. The man looked panicked, but not in shock. “Where did it come from?”
“It just, appeared.”
“‘It’ does have a name. Now ‘it’ will know yours.”
“Father Ian McOwan.”
“Now that we have been properly introduced, please stop referring to me as though I were less than human. I may not be one, but I see that as an advantage.”
Ian nodded. “Fair play, Maon. My apologies for any disrespect.”
“Well, you say please and you apologize. The church has come a long way in its brief life.”
The rest of the trip to the barn was made in silence. Once they arrived, Ian opened the door. The smell of hay and sheep was rich and pungent. He missed the scents, familiar enough from his boyhood.
“Make yourselves comfortable. I’ll know why you invaded my land, before I deal with you.”
Ian walked to a hay bale and sat. Jared walked over beside him and squatted on his haunches. It was the American teacher who spoke first. “It was my understanding that this is Ma Coleman’s land.”
Maon, who had needed to squat to walk into the barn closed the door behind him. “I think of it as being on loan to her.” His sword was back at his hip, but those massive hands with thick, cracked nails, could do the job well enough.
“We were asked to come here to check on her health.”
“The son, meddling bugger. He’s a servant to the Tuatha. I could smell it on him. One of the people perhaps, but not so you’d notice.”
The reference to those that came after the Fir Bolg wasn’t lost on Ian. “Yes, though he really does care for her. He wanted to make sure that she was okay. She did report talking to mysterious giants. Such things aren’t as common as they once were.”
Maon nodded, ram-like horns drawing Ian’s eyes. “As you said, fair play. My people are scarce.”
“Your pardon, Maon. As an interloper, I’m not sure what your people are. Before you decide what to do with us, I’d like to know.”
Those eyes focused on Jared. “Your ignorance is understandable. You’ve come from one of the colonies?”
Jared paused and then nodded. “Yes. One of the… colonies.”
“We have many names. Most of them have been erased by the Church. They call us Fir Bolg, Men of the Bag in your tongue. They call us Fomori. They also call us sons of Lucifer, Nephilim, the fallen ones, all of those terms mostly wrong. It’s enough for you to know that we’re the rightful kings and queens of this land. We were here before you and will be here long after.” Maon’s voice had risen in volume and lowered in pitch gradually until the final phrase resonated in Ian’s bones.
All of those names meant something to Ian. “I know a little bit of the history of these islands. I’m a son of them after all.”
“You’ve lain with the Romans. Your blood is tainted.”
Ian nodded, though the characterization made him angry. “I respectfully disagree. I’m from Ireland and my family has been here for hundreds of years.”
Maon’s laughter was like granite boulders rubbing together. “That long then? I’m half that old, priest. And I’m a young one by my people’s standards.”
“All I am saying is that I’ve been told your stories since I was young. I want to know the truth.”
Maon’s eyes bored into Ian’s. It wasn’t comfortable. After long seconds he nodded. “Not every word out of your mouth is a lie. That’s good.” He sat, cross legged.
Ian could see that there was nothing on the creature’s body under those furs. “Thank you.”
“If you want to know the truth then you might start with asking the Romans. I know they have the true tales written down somewhere. That’s their way. They take things from the people they cross, like stealing their true names. It gives them power. They hold those stories and replace them, just as changelings have done with human babies. I don’t have time to set you to rights, but I can tell you this. They managed to drive even us under ground. We have hidden for too long. We’ve raised our own, passed on our stories so that they will be remembered, and readied for the war to take back that which is rightfully ours.”
Ian heard scratching and looked over to see Jared taking notes on a little spiral bound notebook. He looked up when he realized that Maon and Ian were staring at him. “Some of that sounds familiar. If you control the language and the history then you control the country and its people.”
Maon nodded. “Aye, that’s the way of things. You’re not too stupid.”
Jared grimaced. “Thanks. I was just thinking, how are you going to take things back?”
“The men and women of this land have forgotten. They rely on metal tools and what passes for knowledge. That will not stand against the old magic that this land still possesses and that we still know how to use.”
Ian’s ears nearly pricked up at the word magic. “Magic’s not real though.” He realized how foolish that sounded when he was sitting across from some sort of creature out of a children’s book.
There was that laugh again. “You have made my point, priest. So long as you and yours believe that, then the battle is over before it even begins.”
Jared shifted in his seat. “But you’re just a creature of flesh and blood, right? You’re not magic.”
Maon reached into the furs and pulled out a short knife hidden there. He drew its blade against his left thumb and red blood dripped to the dirt. He returned the knife to its home. After that he grunted a few words in what might have been Gaelic’s great-great grandfather. Where the drops landed, grubby little humanoids, no more than six inches tall clawed free from the dirt. They turned to their creator, bowed, and ran into the shadows. “I am of the land and the land is magic. We are inseparable.”
Ian whispered a prayer.
Maon’s long blade sprang free. “I’ll have none of those words in this space. You may find comfort in them, but they are not welcome here.”
Ian nodded. “I can under…”
“No you can’t. You can’t possibly. You haven’t hidden in barns and under hills for your whole life, quaking in fear at those words.” Maon stepped forward and pressed the tip of the sword against Ian’s throat. “When I am done with you I will do you the honor of allowing you to say those words to your god. If he listens to you then perhaps he will stay my blade. There’s a first time for everything.”
Jared’s voice answered Maon. “So you’ve killed Romans before?”
Maon looked from Ian to Jared and grimaced. It might have been a smile on a prettier face. “It’s been too long, but yes.”
“I can tell you, killing this one would be a mistake.”
Maon pulled the sword back but only a hair’s breadth. “Why’s that?”
Ian felt bathed in sweat. He looked at his friend, wondering at the answer as much as this ancient creature did.
“I have to tell you, I don’t much care for the Romans either. They haven’t been kind to my people. While I’m not given to violence I can understand some of what you’re feeling. This one’s different though. He really cares about you, no matter who you are or where you’re from. If you’ve got a legitimate complaint, he’ll listen to you. More that that he’ll help you if he can. He loves those that are different than him.”
“This is what their godling Jesus told them to do. And yet they do not.”
Ian started to open his mouth and correct the language. He saw Jared shake his head and kept his mouth shut.
Jared shrugged. “This one does. I don’t know why he’s different. I’m beginning to think he’s not alone. There may be one or two others. Who knows? All I know is that by killing him, you may be killing a future friend.”
Maon removed the sword from Ian’s personal space, but it was still too close for his comfort.
“How can either of you help me?”
“There’s a story I’ve heard about a lion and a mouse.”
“My people invented this story so I know of it. The mouse removes a thron from the lion’s paw. Are you mice to my lion?” Maon laughed again and sheathed the sword. “If I let you go you will owe me a favor and will one day prove useful. Is that what you propose?” He looked at Ian. “You Roman, do you think so too?”
Ian shook his head. “I don’t know. I do know that Jared is right, in everything he said. I am called to love all creatures. You are created by God as much as I am.”
Maon snorted. “You continue to say things that shock me, priest. This keeps you alive, if nothing else.”
“I do want to help you. I can’t help you take over Ireland, but then again you can’t do worse a job running it than the English did. At least you speak the language.” That made both men laugh. “I don’t know what I can do, but if you kill me I can do nothing.”
“If I let you go then you will go and tell your king of my existence. Then they will come for me.” There was something akin to fear in Maon’s voice. If Ian read it right.
“I have no king but God and few men above me would believe me if I told them about you.”
Maon tapped his sword. “There are those that believe. We are still hunted, though it is not as bad as it once was.”
Jared stood, rubbing at his thighs. “For what it’s worth, if we did tell anyone we would be locked up. They would think we were insane. We would owe you our lives and I know that I would do nearly anything you ask in the future. It’s only fair.”
“I am nearly convinced.” Maon pulled the knife again. “Hold forth your hands.” He waited while they obeyed. He sliced their palms quickly.
Ian noticed that the small blade absorbed the blood on its edge like a sponge. He hissed at the pain, but it didn’t last long. There was a fine scare where the cut had been, as though it had healed naturally.
“I accept your offer and the blood has tied you to your promise. When I call on you, you must come and do whatever I ask.”
Ian didn’t fell entirely comfortablt with the idea.
“Fear not, Roman. I will not ask you to break promises to your godling. You are one that holds them dear and I respect that. What I ask may be uncomfortable though, so your worry is warranted to some degree.” He looked at Jared. “To what god do you swear alliegance.”
“None really. I don’t believe in gods.”
Maon’s brow wrinkled even more. “Don’t what? And yet you travel with the Roman? These are strange days.” He looked to Ian. “Can this one not see that there is some of the Goddess in everything?”
“I have tried to convince him that the Creator’s beauty is manifest in his creation. So far it hasn’t worked.” Ian couldn’t believe he was on Maon’s side theologically, difference in gender notwithstanding.
“You’re enjoying this little sidebar too much. No, Maon, I don’t agree that there needs to be any sort of creator for a beautiful thing ot exist.”
“I understand this no more than I understand a belief in the godling Jesus. It doesn’t matter though. You are friends with this one and your blood now binds you. Believe that or not, you would ignore it at your peril.”
“So, we can go?” Ian stood.
“Yes, go before I change my mind. I will think of some way for us to call this debt even as soon as I can. There are dire days ahead for us all so it shouldn’t be difficult.”
Jared moved towards the door, beckoning to Ian.
“Dire days? What does that mean?”
“As I said, we are going to war. The Tuatha still rule this land, but their grip is weak. We will strike when the time is right and there will be so much blood and death. I may have only spared your lives for a month at the most.”
Ian walked towards the door, but his legs felt disconnected. There was to be a war in a month? As near as he could understand it, the Tuatha represented order and civilization. Those were things he should be upholding against the chaos of the enemy. Yet he found himself indebted to a horned creature from a nightmare. Maybe it would have been better if he had died under Maon’s sword. A martyr’s death would be cleaner than the road he was now on, no matter how short that road was.
He felt Jared pulling him out of the barn. They stumbled along the ground and both men broke into a run after a few yards. Worried about distance more than direction they soon found themselves off of the path and in the middle of a stand of trees. Ian leaned against the nearest oak and tried to catch his breath. “Did that really just happen?”
Jared was flipping through the notebook. “Well the notes I took are all still here. So if it was a hallucination it’s at least a well documented one.”
Once he felt less light headed Ian stood up straight. He looked around carefully. “Where are we?”
Jared looked up from his book. “We can’t be more than a mile or so from Ma’s house. It’s that way.” He pointed to his right and then squinted. “Or maybe it’s that way.”
“Stay on the path and your should be okay. Isn’t that what Ma Coleman said? Are we lost?”
“We can’t be that lost. Let’s just see if we can get our bearings and find our way back. We’ve only been walking for a few minutes.” Jared looked up into the trees. “I see the sun. It’s still rising since it’s not noon yet. So I think if we walk towards it, we’ll be walking east.”
“That’s great. So which direction is Addie’s house in?” Ian waited and watched confusion play out on his friend’s face. “Uh-huh. That’s what I thought.”
Jared reached into his pocket. “It’s simple. We’ll just call the Ma Coleman.”
“We don’t have her phone number.” He pulled out his own phone and flipped it open. “We could use GPS, but I don’t have a single bar to my name.”
“The thing is not to panic. We should keep our wits about us and we’ll figure it out.”
“Too bad we didn’t remember that when we were runnign for our lives from the barn. That would have been useful.”
“Damn it Ian, I’m the sarcastic one.”
The two friends shared another laugh, this one a little less strained. “I think you’re right though. I remember that the sun was on my left shoulder during most of the run. We keep it on our right and try and keep a straight path. If we don’t find our way out of the woods at least we can come back and try a new direction. We’ll mark the trees so we can at least know where we’re going.”
Jared tucked his notebook back into his backpack. “That’s a good plan. Best one we’ve got I guess.” He pulled out a pocket knife. “I’ll mark the trees and we’ll go slow.”
The Bag Man by Scott Roche is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.scottroche.com.