Story Excerpt Sunday: From The Meri by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff

The MeriThe Meri

Mer Cycle Book One

by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff

It was called Lagan—”the Little Hollow”—and there had been a homestead there once. A fine homestead with an ample cottage and a big barn and a great forge. There was only burnt rubble now, and tall grass and wildflowers that waved sorrowfully in the wind…

She picked wild roses from the tangle that embraced the fallen chimney. She pricked her fingers on the thorns and bled in penance for making Osraed Bevol so unhappy. What she could not do penance for, even by coming here and bleeding upon the thorns every day of her life, was her absence on a particular afternoon seven years past.

On that afternoon, a day of worship, Meredydd-a-Lagan had left her parents at the Cirke in Nairne and gone home through the Bebhinn wood. She had been told to go straight home and had promised to do just that, but the wood had wooed and won her before she’d even left the Cirke-yard. 

She had taken off her shoes by a little pool and thrust her feet into the icy water and let the most wonderful aislinn images flow through her waking brain. She’d sat long, day-dreaming. How long, she never knew, but she suddenly realized that the sky was darkening rapidly toward evening. High above the trees, a burnished light flickered uncertainly in the mists of twilight.

Affording the lost shoes only a moment’s mourning, she climbed until she stood atop a slight rise among the ash and fir. Looking southeast, toward home, she could see what caused the pulsing, rippling light. Wild breakers of flame leapt above the crest of the lea, as if shattering upon an inland reef.

Her heart in her throat, Meredydd tore through the wood, heedless of her cold, bare feet, her eyes clinging to those leaping waves of incandescence. She found the path, broke from the verge of the wood and streaked up the intervening hill.

At the crest she was stopped as if by invisible hands and stared, terrified, into the vale. Lagan was ablaze. The forge, the barn, the cottage, all burned with the brilliance of the morning Sun. She could feel the heat even atop the hill.

Figures moved about the buildings, but they carried no buckets, went nowhere near the well. She made no sense of that, at first. It was only when she turned her eyes to the well itself that the full horror became clear. Lying beside it upon the ground were her mother and father, unmoving, unattended by the three dark-clad men who watched Lagan die.

Meredydd thought she had plumbed the depth of horror, but knew, with sudden conviction, that it had no depth. It was bottomless. She screamed, her voice sounding like the shrill of the hunting hawk.

The activity below ceased and the dusky people peered around, their muffled faces all eyes. One looked up the hill, paused and pointed.

She screamed again, her cry piercing her own heart like a lance and spreading on the hot wind of Lagan’s destruction. The men stared as one man. Suddenly they were all three running away into the dark toward the river fork. They disappeared like a flock of daemons, trailing thunder from their horses’ hooves.

Meredydd fell forward onto her face, tumbling several yards before she could stop and clamber to her bleeding feet. She moved down the gentle slope through wild wheat that caught at feet and ankles. She fell and rose and fell again, finishing her journey in the mud of the barnyard, crawling on hands and knees to where her parents lay.

There was blood. Blood on her mother’s sky blue dress. It spread in a horrid dark stain across the bodice. Blood on her father’s best white shirt—so much that little white could be seen. She knew they were dead without knowing how she knew and she could contemplate no existence without them. They were her entire world. Her goal was only to reach them; merely to lay herself between them in the cool mud and die.

Ooze sucking at her legs, Meredydd put out a hand to touch her mother’s face. Something blocked the touch. Something in a long, soft cloak, now filthy and soaked at the hem. Little Meredydd stopped, teetering, her hand clutching, her eyes blurred with tears, her mind unable to accept this intrusion.

Mewing like a kitten, she struck at the obstruction again and again. A hand grasped her shoulder, gently. She looked up, then, into the face of the Osraed Bevol. He touched a forefinger to her forehead and she collapsed into the mud.

It was two weeks before she spoke. She cried nightly, nursing her grief, fighting nightmares and day-horrors. But the Osraed had loved her and cherished her and instructed her. The deep pain passed and found consolation in loving the Osraed in return. It also spawned an abiding rage—the first words the eight-year-old spoke after her long silence were, “I want them to die. I want to kill them.”

It was Bevol who convinced her she must learn powerful secrets to be able to even discover her parents’ murderers, for no one knew who they were or why they had attacked a peaceful homestead. And she, remembering the aislinn she had experienced at the forest pool, followed his urging and began the study of the Divine Art.

She’d learned many things with Osraed Bevol, more, even, than the average student of Divine Art at Halig-liath. He’d instructed her in the Telling of dreams and visions, Healing, Runeweaving, secret duans, speaking to the unspeaking. She could divine ailments and prescribe the cure; she could forecast the weather; she could follow the bees to their honey, then enlist their cooperation in retrieving it. She knew the courses of the stars and planets and the ways of animals. All these things she had learned and more, but she could not see the faces or know the names of the men who had killed her parents and changed her life.

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Maya’s addicted to speculative fiction. For this, she blames her dad and Ray Bradbury. She’s authored a dozen novels of speculative fiction, and short fiction that’s appeared in Analog, Amazing Stories, Interzone, and others. She has been a finalist for the Campbell, Nebula, Sidewise, and British SF awards. Her most recent novel is New York Times Bestseller Star Wars: The Last Jedi—co-authored with Michael Reaves. In an alternate existence, Maya writes, performs and records music with husband, Jeff. She is a founding member of Book View Café.

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