Dark shadows danced across the stone walls, keeping step with the erratic fire. Staring into the hearth, I did my best to will the flames to reach out and consume me. I wanted them to burn this body and take away my shame, my weakness.
The harsh call jolted me from my morbid thoughts. I turned and saw the intruder perched upon the ledge of the window. It cocked its head back and forth in that mechanical way only birds have mastered.
“Hello dark stranger; what are you doing about at this hour?”
I smiled at the crow, suddenly thankful to not be alone with my tortured thoughts. It seemed there were less and less of the shadowy birds around these days, as if they knew they were unwelcome. The fanatical priests detested the crows and ravens, calling them demons. I always had a fondness for the cunning birds, understanding as my ancestors did, that they are great oracles and messengers. However, I learned quickly to keep my beliefs to myself in my husband’s kingdom.
The moonlight shone like liquid silver on its sleek contours. It craned its head in farther, seeming to survey the chamber for another presence. Then it turned its eyes back on me. I met the stare, but quickly looked away. There was a strong spirit behind those eyes—strong and dark. I was gripped by fear and elation at once. It was her. I knew her name but dared not speak it, even to myself.
The bird half hopped, half flew to the small table at my side. Cocking her head back and forth again, she keenly observed me, making soft cooing noises. My breath stopped as my heart raced and I crossed my arms, turning my body away, ashamed of what she would find. I hadn’t looked in the mirror recently, but I knew they were there. I felt them in every move, reminding me of how weak I had become.
She became agitated and began pecking at my left arm. When I refused to turn back towards her, she leapt onto my lap and continued the assault, somehow hitting each and every one of the dark mementos scattered across my body. I didn’t try to stop her; I deserved it. My body was sacred and I had allowed it to be decimated over and over. Tears ran silently down my face as the realization hit me.
My marriage had sealed a long-awaited peace between Midhe and Ulster, but at what cost? I believed I was losing myself to madness as my husband acted more a tyrant each day. In the end it seemed all would be lost.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door. I knew it was him.
The crow leapt up into the air and perched back on the window ledge. The stiff autumn wind ruffled her smooth feathers and she made sharp clicking noises, bobbing her head up and down excitedly. Her dark spirit whispered to me, guiding my own spirit back to consciousness, strengthening my resolve to take my life back.
I heard the knocking again, louder this time.
“Darling?” Even muffled by the door, his voice was like silk, smoothly sliding across my skin and into my ears, perverting my self-preservation.
I couldn’t answer; my lips remained in a tight line.
“Please, my love…I’m sorry.”
I said nothing.
I heard his ragged sigh, and then the scraping and click as he unlocked my door. The locks would never keep him out, but somehow securing them had symbolized the only form of resistance I could muster.
A loud clang sounded as something fell to the floor from the cluttered table near the window, and I turned my head and saw the crow launching herself out into the cool night, leaving me to face my fate alone. I wished more than ever that I too could transform this body and be free.
Slowly he opened the door; it creaked in protest.
I kept my head turned as he walked in and secured the lock back in place.
For a moment he didn’t speak, didn’t move. My body trembled involuntarily and I stumbled around the chair to reach my night robe hanging nearby.
“Don’t!” His command startled me and I instinctively dropped the robe and wrapped my arms back around me, as if I could keep myself together a little better.
“I want to see the loathsome thing I did.” His voice dropped to a whisper.
He walked cautiously towards my huddled form and went down on his knees in front of me. Unraveling my arms, he gently pulled me down to the floor. I kept my head bent down, my tangled, dark hair hiding the anguish on my face.
As I felt his breath stir my hair, I suddenly found his proximity intoxicating. He smelled clean, like leather mingled with grass. Quickly I stopped my thoughts from going along the familiar path that led to his arms.
His hand slipped through the curtain of hair and went under my chin, firmly persuading me to look up. His fingers softly brushed across the tear trails on my cheek. I met his gaze and saw a blue sea of calmness, void of emotion. Somehow I was disappointed, as if this time would be different. Even when he went after me, his eyes remained eerily peaceful.
“I never wanted to hurt you, my sweet. Please understand that.”
I understood. I understood that as his wife, I was not allowed to speak out of turn. I understood that as his lover, I was never to speak of his affairs. I understood that as a woman, I was not to fight back. I understood as a man, he was a victim of the devil when he behaved poorly.
“I am not evil, I only have a dark side, love. It’s like a terrible scar upon one half of my heart, and it opens and bleeds each time I hurt you. I couldn’t very well expect you to understand little angel; you are too sweet, well above such things.”
My sweet little mind imagined cutting the defective heart out for him, and I shuttered at the unexpected vividness of my own thoughts.
“If I could make it all go away I would.” He brushed my hair back over my shoulders. The firelight made such tempting shadows along the contours of his bare chest, his strong shoulders. I kept my arms stiffly at my sides, lest they deceive me yet again.
“Kiss it and make it all better, like my mother always told me.” He continued, bending to kiss the blue tinted skin on my left shoulder, then the green-yellow line across my throat. His hands followed deftly behind each one as he continued to review his work. The familiar touches stirred desire and hatred all at once, and I became lost in the emotional confusion.
I let him lay me back beneath the open window and as he placed my arms above my head, my hand brushed against something cold. I suddenly remembered the crow and the clatter when she fled. The cool breeze rushed in suddenly and the scent of decomposing leaves infiltrated my senses, somehow cleansing my mind and I began to see through the haze of emotions. I stretched out like a cat and ran my hand down his chest. He smiled knowingly and bent down, turning his attention to my body.
I reached my right hand back again and clutched the small hilt of the cold silver dagger, a wedding gift from my dear husband. The irony almost made me smile. But as I played the scene of his murder in my mind, my resolve rapidly dissolved and I began to feel dizzy. My mind screamed to do it, but my hand stayed put. I moaned in agony.
He looked up then and instantly saw the little weapon in my hand. Like lighting he slammed a hand over my forearm, pinning it to the ground. He flattened his body some to hold the rest of me still. “Well, what a little devil you are after all.” He mocked me.
I held tight to my dagger; it seemed the only thing real to cling to at the moment. A devious smile grew on his lips.
“Very well love, we can play rough.” His breathing quickened, his excitement growing with this new challenge I gave him. It had been a long time since I tried to resist him.
Still holding my right arm down, his other hand tucked my other arm against my body, securing it under his own weight. He then reached back and unsheathed his own weapon. It was a large hunting knife, wickedly serrated.
Shifting his weight to straddle me, he dug his knee painfully into my left arm.
I squeezed my hand tighter around my dagger, stifling a cry, not wanting to give him more satisfaction.
Starting at the hollow at my throat he ran the tip of the knife lightly along my skin, down to my navel. He then moved to my face, tracing the contours of my lips, my jaw. I clenched my teeth, frozen in fear.
My hand that clutched the dagger began to tingle with numbness and I suddenly realized it was over.
I heard a wolf howling in the distance. I felt as if its mournful tune was lamenting my pitiful life. On the steep edge of death, I finally found courage to call her name.
“Morrigan…please.” My voice was hoarse, barely a whisper.
I realized now the Phantom Queen had often been with me, her messengers surrounding me. I think I had known all along, but I feared her power when I should have embraced it.
“What was that my love?” He momentarily looked up.
Suddenly I heard the flapping of wings as a dark shadow streaked by. My husband yelled a curse and released my numbing hand to ward off the attacker. The crow dug her talons into his flesh as her beak pierced him over and over.
It didn’t take long for him to come to his senses again and he swiped at the bird with his knife, but being on his knees disrupted his balance, and he missed as she deftly leapt away. In that moment I slid my legs out from under him and plunged my dagger into the left side of his gut. He grunted and looked down at the little silver handle protruding from his torso.
For a moment I wondered if Morrigan had entered my body and performed the ghastly deed, but I glanced back to the window and the crow sat quietly observing me and I realized this was all my own doing. The fear was finally gone; I had never felt such power.
Dropping his own knife, my husband reached to yank my weapon free, but I quickly backhanded him across his face. He stared at me for a moment, his face contorted in disbelief and pain. He staggered back onto his elbows and then, giving into the pain, fell back all the way.
I got up and kicked the hunting knife out of his reach, then stood over him. His breathing was tight and labored as he fought the shock. Kneeling down, I straddled his trembling body. His warm blood welled up between my legs and I felt his retreating life force feeding my own.
Careful to avoid pushing the dagger in further, I leaned over to bring my face close to his. I smiled in satisfaction as I finally found emotion in his beautiful eyes. I could see his fear.
He inhaled deeply, trying to speak but I laid a finger across his lips and shushed him.
“It’s my turn to speak now, darling.” I whispered sweetly.
Reaching back, I grasped the dagger and jerked it free. He gasped and his body jerked involuntarily.
His eyes darted around the room, desperately searching for any way out of his predicament. But there was none. Morrigan empowered me now, and she demanded retribution and hungered for war in our lands.
I leaned back down and kissed his lips for the last time.
“Now my love, what was that you were saying about your heart?”
I teased the pointy dagger around his beautiful chest.
“Why don’t you tell me which half is the dark side? When I cut it out, I will destroy it in earnest, saving only the best of you for myself.”