Chapter 1: The Curse

It would be so much easier to give in to the natural urges flowing through my veins, telling me to just kill and take their place. Three of my siblings already gave in to those urges and seem much happier than my brother and me, but I can’t forget the person I used to be — the person I wish I still was. I would be better off dead than living right now, if that’s what you want to call what I’m doing.

My mother made the mistake of going to the Fae. That’s how we, siblings, were cursed with this life.

It was her fault all of this happened, but they were lucky and got to die.

It was Breigh, Ireland 664 AD – it’s called Dublin now – when life as I knew it, as I loved it, ultimately ended. My father had gone out of town for business, which wasn’t unusual for a traveling merchant, but that time he brought back something unwanted.

I was 16 and desperately trying to not get married: an exhausting task since most girls were married off at the age of 12 in those days, and having a dowry like mine made it even harder to stay independent.

As a 16-year old with a substantial dowry, I was an attractive prospect, regardless of the freckles that devoured my face or my personality. My three older brothers, however, were already immersed in their new lives, with their new families.

Gormman, Beccan and Ciaran were my three older brothers.

Gormman was 21, the oldest of us all, and had a wife and two children, a boy and a baby girl. He was 6’4″ with long ash black hair that touched his shoulders, a thick beard and a mustache to match. Working outside all day had given him bulging muscles, of which Gormman was exceptionally proud.

Beccan, the second-born, was 19 and had been married at one point, but his wife had gotten sick and didn’t make it. If back then we had the medicine we have now, Concessa would’ve been fine. But she never made it through those harsh winter months.

I suppose Beccan used to look like me: we both had red hair, but mine had a mind of its own, deciding to curl every way the compass pointed, whereas Beccan’s was dead straight and quite short. Unlike Gormman, Beccan was more restrained and didn’t like showing off, though perhaps that was how he changed after Concessa’s death.

The youngest of the three brothers is Ciaran. He was 17 and, like Gormman, had the blackest of hair, only he preferred to keep it short. His attempts to grow facial hair…well, he gave up on it early. He was married and had 3 children, two of which were twin girls and a baby boy. If he had the choice, there is no doubt Ciaran would spend all day doting on his wife and children.

At 12, Saerlaith was our youngest sibling, and it definitely showed. She was a mixture of all our looks: crazy curly hair like mine, but raven black like Gormman and Ciaran. What made her stand out was her bubbly personality. Unlike me, she couldn’t wait to get married; Saerlaith always wore the best dresses and never left the house without her hair done up. Everyone she met doted on her, and our family was no different. Yeah, she was a handful, but we all loved her.

We used to live in a traditional round brick laid house, a moss turf roof, that could fit all our families together for dinner every Sunday. There was even space for a breathtaking hearth that everyone was envious of. At that time, our home was considered large, despite being only one room, and I loved it. After all these centuries, my memories of home have faded, but who can blame me; only blurry images remain of my old life now.

However, a certain day in late April is still as clear as ever.

My father had returned late from one of his travels. He would go away for months at a time, and we would never know when he would return. When you travel by ship, you don’t have any say in that matter.

Saelaith and I were walking around the grounds of our house when we saw our father, walking slower than usual and not looking like his usual cheerful self. Not thinking anything of it at the time, too excited to see him, my sister and I picked up our dresses – mine the colour of pale seafoam and Saerlaith’s the white of a doves wings – and ran as fast as our legs could take us.

As we got closer, it was clear there was definitely something wrong with our father. He was soaked with sweat dripping all over his yellow skin, and right when we got to him he bent over and started to reject everything that he had eaten that day, making us jump out of the way.

Turning towards my sister, I yelled roughly, “Go, run and get mathair!” As my sister took off to call our mother, I went back to my father and started rubbing his back, only hoping that this unexpected sickness would leave as quickly as it came.

The next few days flew by in a blur, and my hopes were left shattered. It turned out my father had caught something called ‘yellow fever’. The sickness, not deadly, was not our biggest problem. Our villagers believed that the symptoms of the sickness were a sign of a curse. If the villagers discovered my father was sick, cursed, then no one in our family would be safe.

If we were lucky, the illness would remain a secret, but I always seemed to repel luck, and this time was no different.

When my mother no longer wanted people to come into the home, the villagers discovered that my father, our entire family, was cursed and decided we needed to be eliminated. The men in the village guarded our home around the clock, making sure we could not escape and spread the so-called curse. My brothers could do nothing, only beg to be heard out and my father was getting weaker by the day. I could only try and soothe Saerlaith, scared out of her mind, and look for ways to escape. But even if I found one, we would never be able to drag our father out of here.

I never realized how little time we had left until the men informed us we were to be killed in two days, on the solar eclipse. Leaning against the southern wall, hugging Saerlaith is where I resided most of the time, trying to be strong; but ultimately failing. Staying in one place for so long left all of my limbs were numb, and my eyes stung from the tears overwhelming my eyes. The solar eclipse was on May 1st and the villagers believed that the rare occurrence of the sun disappearing would rid the village of the curse if they killed us at the same time. Perhaps if I hadn’t been wallowing in self dread and gotten myself together then, I would still be human. My mother had decided, out of desperation, to find the Fae and ask for their help.

Finding the Fae was tricky: it was easy if you knew what you were looking for, but you could also look for decades and never find them. In the Fae stories, they live by ponds and spend their days floating around angelic water lilies or sitting on coarse toadstools. But those are all stories of pretty Fae told to little girls and boys.

It was much later, too late, that I learned where I could actually find the Fae. You have to look for a rare blue toadstool, one that glows softly like a firefly, that is nourished by Fae essence. That is not the only sign; the Fae love dramatics, so you should look for strange, twisting, and arching trees and plants. One thing everyone did get right is that they do love to have some kind of pond or water around, who knows why.

The night of the eclipse, my mother claimed she could find Fae to help us. Our nerves were all strained by our impending death, so our family had no reservations, but now I wish I had picked death over this suffering. That night, our family rioted to help my mother sneak out, wearing a cloak and hood over a dark green dress. My brothers attacked the men, and Saerlaith and I spared no effort in adding to the insanity, tossing rocks and whatever else we could get our hands on.

While my mother was out, the Fae they gave her 5 bracelets and instructed her to place them on our wrists.

Once mother returned, locked back in our home, she slipped the bracelets, thick bands of plain silver, on all our wrists and watched as the bracelets immediately shrunk and fused themselves with our wrists, unable to be removed. That night none of us slept well, and my grief was mixed with an anger that was getting harder to control. It was a wonder that I was able to sleep on what I had thought was the last night of my life.

The next morning I woke to screams. The villagers dragged my mother and father out of the house and knowing they were coming for us next, my siblings and I scrambled to protect ourselves. It was then we noticed the note my mother had wrote with ash from the hearth on the wall.

My mother’s last words to us were simply, ‘Keep your bracelets with you at all times, they will keep you safe. Don’t try to save your athair and I, get away while you can and always remember we love you dearly!’. I will never forget those last words; or what happened afterwords.

Before my tears could fall, I felt a searing pain pass all over my body, my vision going black as I fell to my knees. The skin on my face, where the pain was the worst, felt as if it was being seared off. My brothers were pounding against the floors, the walls, to distract themselves from the agonizing pain.

It was only when the pain was starting to subside that I noticed the changes in my sister’s face. Her skin was melting like wax and replaced with indigo and sapphire blue skin, hints of amethyst shining through. The sight was grotesquely horrifying, like a mutated mix between human and monster, but at that moment my mind was blank. What was happening to us?

It was amongst the screaming when something inside me clicked and I just knew what I had to do. I guess my sister and brothers had the same realization because the screaming stopped I stood up and started to head towards town square, my little sister followed me out of the house and I was joined by my other siblings at my side. 

My legs carried me forward until we came across other people. Some force compelled me to look in the direction of a villager, a girl my age until I felt a sore stinging all over my body. It was the feeling of my bones shifting, rearranging to match the face and body of the person before me. As the pain disappeared, so did our appearances. Our identities. I was no longer Orlaith, but a stranger whose name I did not even know.

I could still recognize my brothers and sisters even though they no longer looked like the people I had grown up with, it was like we were each surrounded by an aura. Each aura was like a thumbprint, unique to each person.

We then ran to town square but were too late and watched as the villagers dragged our parents to the gallows, wrapped the rope around their necks, and dropped the bag of grain that ended their lives. I hung onto my little sister as she sobbed into my dress, soaking it with her salty tears, trying to hold myself together for her the way I couldn’t before.

What happened next I will never forget. We remembered, it seemed at the same time, that our brothers families hadn’t changed like us.

We took off pushing through the crowd, no longer able to do anything about our parents, and got to the house as fast as our legs would allow. When we entered the home, we were not welcomed by warm arms but attacked. Hitting us with pots and pans, my brother’s families ran as fast as they could away from us. We forgot the changes in our appearance. We were strangers to them now.

Gormman’s family was the first ones the villagers went after and as hard as Gormman tried, his new body no longer had his strength and he couldn’t fight them off. None of us could. We fought till the very end. That day, we were the ones who changed but were not the only monsters. Only a monster could hang two innocent children.

Cirians’ family had luck on their side and during all of the commotion, they snuck out and ran like hell. We lost track of them after that. Cirian scoured everywhere he could think of trying to find them and came up empty handed. 

So now I’m here 1,357 years later, in 2021 another freakin’ pandemic just trying to make a living in Manhattan, New York. Yeah it’s completely different than Ireland but after all of the Fae disappeared, believed to be extinct, my hopes dying with them. I couldn’t stay there and I haven’t been there since.

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