Máire

Historical fantasy / magical realism

Follows on from:

Howey O’Connor was drunk.
It was past curfew, it was cloudy, every window was blacked out, every street light dark, the roofs lined with roosting crows and Howey was trying to get back to his lodgings. In the dark. Drunk.
If he got caught he’d land in a cell, and he really didn’t want that; back in Kerry he could probably talk his way out of trouble, but back in Kerry the buzz-bombs hadn’t been falling, people weren’t as scared – Howey wouldn’t be as scared, and he wouldn’t be drunk. Well, not as drunk anyway.
But Howey was drunk and if he got caught he would get locked up, then he’d lose his job. Then he’d lose his lodgings. It wouldn’t be good all round, for sure.
Another problem was London. How was he meant to find his way among all these little back streets? And Howey had to use the back streets because otherwise he’d get locked up!
He paused and leaned against a doorway.
I’m goin’ in circles, he thought. Can’t help it, it’s so dark and I’m dru- wassat?
The moon had finally poked her face out from behind the clouds and glinted off something laying against the kerb.
A mirror?
He staggered over to it, leaned and thought better of it.
A good mirror. Pretty. Silver, if I’m any judge. I’ll just steady myself for a bit.
He stuck his hand out to lean against a railing.
Which wasn’t there.
He fell back bonelessly into a gatepost, bashed his head, and slipped down to the street on his backside.
No railings any more. They’d gone a couple of years before. Howey couldn’t tell anyone about that either; the iron being dumped at sea.
No, Howey-boy. That’d get you locked up, too, he shook his head. Or shot.
He became conscious of a low, throbbing sound. Initially he’d dismissed it, having hit his head, but the noise was persistent.
Buzz-bomb? Your man Hitler with his winged bombs, again?
He listened harder. He was sobering up — it took the threat of dying in a massive explosion to do it, but nevertheless he was returning to relative sobriety.
No, probably not a buzz-bomb.
He remembered what he’d been doing: reaching for the silver mirror. He brought himself up onto his knees and reached out, again, to there it still lay.
The sound stopped.
Another kind of bomb? The idea frightened him stiff. How could they have missed the development of another new bomb?
A cry! Part woman’s shriek, part owl’s screech, the noise sounded above him. He craned his neck round to look up and felt the strength leave his arms in surprise as he saw a pallid woman, still crying out in an unearthly keen, impossibly falling toward him.
A new sound, barely registered through Howey’s shock: a low, sharp, rapid chant.
The space above Howey was no longer full of falling, screeching woman, but of massed black wings, then of nothing as the falling woman’s trajectory was abruptly altered sideways.
The screeching had not stopped, but it had changed. Outraged, now, and pained was the voice that carried the keen.
A figure moved close by him and he thought to stick his hand out and grab an arm, but glint of steel changed his plan at the last moment. You don’t grab at people carrying three feet of sharpened metal, not if you plan to go home the same shape and still breathing.
As the figure strode into the winged melee, it began to settle. The multitudinous forms separated into discrete forms: crows, about a dozen of them. The figure with the sword had walked through the murderous flock, straight up to the torn and bleeding wreck of a woman and thrust the sword into her heart, silencing her immediately.
‘What, in the name of all that’s holy, was that?’ Howey shouted at the figure.
‘Be quiet! People couldn’t hear its keen, but they can hear you!’ The figure spoke and, at the same time, turned slightly; moonlight escaping the clouds once again to dispel the shadows. The woman was striking, indeed, with a full head of red hair and regal features.
‘What was she?’ he asked, more quietly.
‘It was a banshee, as you should have known.’
He couldn’t place her accent, for a moment it was Kerry, then Meath, then Limerick, which made no more sense than anything else.
‘But that’s a myth…’
‘You have a better explanation…’
He gathered his wits: he was still half-cut, in an alley with a crazy woman and a dead body; now was not the time to quibble about stories.
‘We need to get out of here.’
‘You do. I’ll take care of the banshee. Well,’ she corrected herself, ‘the crows will.’
‘Who are you?’
‘Never you mind; get on with you, now! Remember your name!’
I know my name,’ he said, standing and facing her, ‘I am Howey O’Connor.’
The woman said nothing, but eyed him with a coldly sardonic expression.
OK, he thought, I’m not and she knows, somehow.
‘I,’ he said, more slowly, ‘am Eochaidh Ó Conchobhair.’
‘And don’t you forget it, sire!’ She turned her back to him, retrieving her sword.
‘And you? You haven’t told me your name.’
She told him, not turning round, concentrating on cleaning the blood from the sword.
‘Máire Egan, was that?’
‘Close enough.’

Howey got the distinct impression that it was time to leave, staying any longer would be pushing his luck just too far. Best get out of here, get back to bed and forget about all this over breakfast.

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