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Aodh's Tale

Was it simply the perverse pleasure of God to make a Daoinethea love the moon so much? The moon, an ocean of pockmarked bullet holes and scars, hung suspended in the dark sky like a prisoner hanged on a black mourning wall. The air was too cold to be considered comfortable, too cold to be breathing in. It cut Aodh’s throat, and sliced its way down to his lungs. In the silence of obscurity, Aodh imagined his windpipe filling with blood, like a well during a flood, and clogging his lungs. He pictured the life rushing out of his chapped, sanguinolent lips like water frothing on jagged rocks, his teeth being stained with red-cloaked death like the dying sky at sunset, and falling to the damp, spongy ground with his brown eyes turning glassy and unfocused as the blind’s. And yet, as fearful as Aodh was of the moon, he could not help but think of it better than the dry heat found in his own allegiance to the nacaratic sun. While life-giving and crop-growing, Aodh struggled to think of the sun holy just as he struggled to think of the moon peccant.
Shivering, Aodh deracinated his thoughts from the frozen ground and continued to stealthily hike across the hilly terrain in the soft, angelic light of the moon and stars looming overhead. He had a long way to travel in little time if he desired to reach his destination by midnight and sneak back without anyone at home knowing of his absence.
Just before the moon was at its highest in the sky, Aodh arrived, slightly breathless, at the edge of a clearing. He stayed at the verge of it, relying on the shadows of the tall, ancient trees of the Greenwood to obnubilate his form from the people slowly converging outside a circle of stones. Lawfully, he wasn’t supposed to be there, in the Septentrionals’ demesne. They were a thalassic, paynimic race- the opposite of his people, and to be seen by them would almost certainly mean immediate death- and if he didn’t receive the reaper’s slap from them, it would come from his own people. The Treaty was not something anyone would ever want to disobey.
It was said back home that the Septentrionals and the Daoinethea had been foes since the end of the Afore, the time when the moon and sun did not exist. The Septentrionals’ ancestors were amphisbaena, double-headed serpents of the sea, which grew tired of living among benthos and ignorant fish and ocean animals, and eventually crawled onto the sandy beaches. However, they soon found that the sun was too strong, too majestic, too bright for them, creatures who had lived for centuries in the depths of the swallowing blackness of the deepest ocean, and when they walked alone under the mercy of the sun (who could tell that they were creatures of her rival the moon), She burnt their pale skin and the white hair of their children, so that for all eternity the Septentrionals’ offspring would have locks branded by the sun, and scars speckling their bodies to remind them of the power of the sun.
The creatures, cowed, withdrew into the deep valleys and mysterious woods, where they lived and practiced dark, paganismic rituals to the moon and the stars. On full moons, it was said that they sacrificed innocent creatures to their many gods and goddesses, believing in their deranged minds that the blood spilt on the ground would turn into an ocean, one that they planned for the whole world to be swallowed by.
Aodh didn’t really think that was the case.
He had been sneaking off to witness the bi-monthly rituals of the Septentrionals since he was thirteen, for over a year, and had yet to witness any sort of sacrificial or bloody ritual. Rather, it seemed that every time they gathered, it was to celebrate a wedding, mourn a death, or welcome a new life into the world. This time, as Aodh watched the constellation of white kirtles surround the fane, he knew from the canorous calls of mirth and joy that they were reveling in an accouchement. A young baby’s welcoming squeal from the center of the circle confirmed it.
Aodh didn’t know exactly why he started seeking out the Septentrionals, or why he continued to watch them after the first time he had stumbled upon a ritual on one of his many nightly excursions. At first, he had only seen them for a moment, before sprinting away until he couldn’t run anymore. For weeks he had been too shaken to chance another encounter- he had felt as if everyone on the mountain knew what he had done, where he had been. But, curiosity was always a fatal flaw of his, and eventually he traveled again into the night to see the forbidden race. And, every time he went, Aodh felt less and less guilty about his “betrayal.”
The Septentrionals had never shown any sort of aggression or madness that Aodh had ever been a witness to, counteracting much of what he had learned about them when growing up. Like every other child, Aodh recalled being riveted to the stories of ancient, brave warriors readying to reave Septentrional villages to gain honor, avenge fathers, and prove their worth. Watching children trail after the graying beldam who wove the tales as brilliantly as a spider spun silk, Aodh now found himself disgusted at his people’s bloodlust for an entire society none had never met, and avoided the crone as if she were a fiend out for his blood.
In the beginning, during the day when the sun was out, Aodh was embarrassed by his fascination with the Septentrionals, and consistently promised himself that the next full or new moon, he would not return to the rawky abode of the moon’s people. Despite this, he had watched the night sky routinely, tracking the waning and waxing of the ethereal being almost religiously. Then, when the time was right, he would arise, dress, and don his darkest cloak. Finally, as was his ritual, he would remove the chain on which his periapt hung and place it beside his pillow. Aodh did not know why he did this as much as he did not know why he did anything else, but the hammered gold was always left behind just the same, as either a promise of return or an abandonment of culture, Aodh didn’t know.
Sitting back onto his knees, Aodh listened to the euphonious songs of the moon’s people. The voices rode on the light wind, caressing Aodh’s face as he eventually lay down onto his back and folded his arms above his head. Drifting to sleep, he did not wake until a few hours before dawn, his clothes soaked through from the damp ground. He sat up and crawled out from under the bottle green foliage, taking a look around to make sure he was alone. Solitary, he jogged across dew-graced fields and valleys, edging his way along the bottle-necked thrutch in which water flowed down from the mountain ahead, to reach the other side. There, the submontane land held the small Daoinethean villages, fields, and garths that supplied the nearby mountain-dwellers. The cottiers were already coming out of their thatched houses and cottages, reveling in the beginnings of the sunrise, heads outstretched to the horizon like stone wall ivy drawn towards light.
None of them knew Aodh personally, and would probably forget his face by the end of the day, and yet the peasants smiled and waved their hands in hello. They probably knew where he was going, what station he was, perhaps even what man-made terrace on the mountain on which his house, stone and mud and brick and identical to its neighbors, stood. Caste was an important part of the Daoinethea community. Base borns- these people- were lower-to-middle ground in terms of social standing. Below them were the landless, the varlets, and the shunned. Above were Aodh’s class, the nobles, and the priests, in that order. They could probably see his rubiginous cloak, so starkly contrasted to their own rough, crottle-dyed trousers and shirts. He wondered if they were happy with their life, if they enjoyed the days spent cultivating the land, the sun on their shoulders. To them, were the rays of light a mother’s palm, soft on the brow, or a slave driver’s yoke, straining and burning their backs? Wishing he could ask, Aodh turned his mind to his own life. Was he happy? In a respected caste, one for the educated, should he not be grateful for his lot? He had a loving family, a house, a stable community. Wasn’t that enough? No, Aodh found himself thinking. He wanted to be more than what was allotted. He wanted to be different, he wanted to do something. On the mountain, on his terrace, everyone was the same. They were salmon in the gorge, swimming in the same direction, blindly, downstream. But what if better things hid upstream, waiting to be found?
Aodh stopped walking for a moment, and noticed that he was sweating. Glancing up at the growing sun, he pondered what he was.
He stood until an obliviously floating cloud blocked his view, and then started marching up the increasingly steep incline once again. Who am I to think like this? He scornfully berated himself. ‘I am the same. Nothing more, nothing less. Just a boy with an inflated ego’. He sighed, and dragged his feet more than he already was. If he were late, did it really matter how late he was?
Halfway there, a spark ignited in Aodh’s eyes, a glint of hope. He began to think. ‘But I am different. The others, my people, they only know the sun. And the Septentrionals… they are impervious to everything but the moon. Neither knows the benefits of the other. Neither knows that their equipollency far outweighs their differences. All are ignorant of the other’. Then, as an afterthought, ‘except me’. There was value in that thought. An assurance that he was not the same as the others. On the outside, yes, he was no different. But on the inside, he was changed. He had a secret.

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