His life is defined by how much pain he brings his mother.
Twenty-two years ago, Ciniod, the oldest daughter of Duboni, left her princely father’s house to marry a coastal druid named Fintan. He didn’t know that she got herself caught the previous spring, and when her pregnancy showed, the duped Fintan celebrated his imminent fatherhood.
Her pains began a month early, on the autumnal, and since the unborn babe insisted on coming out ass first, the old druidess tending cut her to liberate him. She reminds her son of this every time she passes gas because forced farts hurt.
After peeling the caul from his eyes, Fintan named him Aedan.
Undercooked at birth, Aedan the Ancalite is a bony sort with alabaster skin and the jawline of a corpse. His pouty lips form a natural frown, and his broad nose rounds like a pebble. Not much hair grows on his face because his crotch hoards it all. His narrow feet, calloused from the shingle beach, are his primary weapons against anyone foolish enough to pick a fight. His long fingers hold nails bitten to the nubs, while the mess of black curls on his head speaks nothing of his mother and everything of his grandfather.
A son of druids, his education came early, midwifery first and then the inner workings of anatomy. If a high-born woman or marsh girl is caught, Aedan roots it out. He rarely speaks, and while this social muteness drives away the girls, it aids men foolish enough to reach under his robe.
Aedan’s taste for cock is renowned, but his violent appetites confuse even the most willing warriors.
The long journey north brings them to his mother’s girlhood home on the Tamesa, where reedbeds shiver and crickets forever sing. It is a lazy river with sandless banks and water impervious to any wind that might make a wave.
Ciniod reunites with her aunts and tends to her dying father, while Aedan, whose reputation precedes, spends the day handling cunts.
From arrival to sunset, he roots out the unwanted. Some prove too far along, requiring an agile hand for a needle in the ear before a cry catches air. He deposits these undercooked in the tidal marsh, and when the water comes in, the top feeders devour everything, starting with the cords.
Aedan scrubs blood and meconium from his nails but takes the smoke to rid the stink from his nostrils.
New voices annoy him, so he abandons the bonfire drums and strings. The horses ignore him as they do the cats. Hippos, the Greeks call them—his father taught him Greek words, but he knows no Greek men. He misses his father, their horses, and the brawny sheller’s son who chokes him until he comes. Naked, he climbs atop the thickest mare, and when she snorts her approval, he unbraids her mane. It’s time well spent with his cock trapped between his weight and her rough hide.
“Aedan,” the wrinkled seer approaches. “You’re taller than I remember.”
An aging druid known to most, Ostin the Old lives without a tribe. His smile shows teeth browner than the wettest sand, and Aedan tries returning the sentiment since he scrapes his daily with a cat bone and whitens them with his piss.
Ostin turns from Aedan’s attempt at humanity as if witnessing a crime, then collects his discarded frock and pitches it at him.
“You might be too young to take your father’s place, but you’re needed all the same.” His twisted staff compensates for a dragging left foot. “We must divine the future since chaos shrouds the present.”
The reason his mother dragged him this far north was twofold: a selfish desire to see her family and Fintan’s absence, leaving a void in tribal control. Fintan kept the northern warlord, Cassibelanus, from acting on impulse, calming his heart on days when murder seemed the logical solution to any problem.
Shortly after Finatan’s departure, Cassibelanus lost control.
At the last tribal gathering, the strapping chieftain’s desire for a Trinovantian prince named Mandubracius boiled over. The man’s rebuke and eventual besting of him in a sporting fight sent him into a rage—among the Celts, plucked egos spurred wars.
Cassibelanus demanded compensation, but Mandubracius’s father, King Imanuentius, refused. He paid for that refusal with his life.
Cassibelanus demanded compensation, but Mandubracius’s father, King Imanuentius, refused. He paid for that refusal with his life. Mandubracius fled to the continent searching for Fintan, fearing worse things to come.
Aedan regards the old seer with disinterest.
“All sparks will burn out when Mandubracius returns,”
“You’ve found your voice,” says Ostin. “I recall when many believed you dumb,”
“My father will return with him,” Aedan says. “And the Gods will show our future through the guts of whatever tipsy fool he chokes out in your circle.”
Odin rolls his toothless gums together.
“Your father is dead, boy,”
Aedan’s heart slows to a crawl.
“Mandubracius didn’t find Fintan.” Ostin sits on the grass, not an easy thing at his age. “What he found is the Roman wolf,”
Aedan’s stomach hardens. “The legions fled two summers past,”
“They left, boy,” Ostin snaps. “They didn’t flee,”
Aedan thrusts out his jaw. “Who says my father’s dead?”
“Your…mother’s brother, Taran,” Ostin reveals after a pause. “He keeps your father’s head in his hands and will give it to your mother when the moon is high.”
Aedan’s heart hardens as a tear falls for the man who loved him unconditionally—hoisted him high on his feet so he could fly like a bird—who taught him everything under the sun and skin, and how to read and speak Greek.
Father roams spaces unseen, searching for a new body to begin again.
“Swallow your pain, boy,” Otis says. “You’ll take his place in ritual and verse.”
Aedan cannot formulate a refusal.
“You’re my Ancalite,” Ostin decides. “You strangle the offering, and the Gods reveal the fate of your people when that offering breathes his last breath.”
And with that, Aedan inherits his father’s druidic robes.
Morning comes, and his suffering mother presents his father’s head like a token. She wails loud and long while he stands nearby with no more tears to cry. Father’s last words ring in his large ears—the man didn’t wish to leave their coastal home and wouldn’t have were it not for his mother.
Twilight finds him naked beneath his father’s owl-feathered robe, and the horned beak on its cowl tickles his nose. Memories of his father’s cobalt eyes and double-chin scratch at his heart. He possesses none of the man’s attributes and hides his fury at such truths behind the man’s owl mask.
Aedan enters the circle, and between high seer Ostin and the handsome druidess Eadaoin of the Bibroci, he twists his lean body to the drum’s beat. He spins right, his cock bounces left, and the tribal songstress’s high-pitch wail hardens his nipples.
A sip of redcap tea takes him outside his skin. Flapping his wings lifts him above the revelers, where the firelight glows over slick mud. Suddenly, a red sheen invades the dirt, turning the songstress’s feminine howls into chilling screams.
A golden beast stalks toward the crowd. It is a Leo, like the one Heracles kills in that story his father told him as a boy. Majestic with a thick mane and a mouth full of pointed teeth, it falls upon a child and tears her to pieces as her parents cry.
Maw dripping red, the lion circles where he perches, its orbit growing smaller with each revolution. Excitement courses through him as the blood’s metallic stench taints his senses. He takes flight as the beast lunges, colliding with the sky above the bonfire’s glow until his human form returns under the sea.
Aedan sinks into the depths, taking salty water into his lungs until a distant splash draws his attention. A paw without claws appears in the froth, but a strapping man emerges and strokes toward him, hairless, with a bone-deep virility.
Dark green eyes seize him through the oceanic murk. Swollen lips part in beautiful symmetry, revealing a mouth of flawless teeth. The water barrier between them weakens with each slippery pass.
Body to body, lips to lips, this man is everything Aedan wants and nothing he needs. He sinks into the nadir, but drowning matters little if it’s this pleasurable.
Suddenly, night air slaps his face, and burning wood brings an uninvited silence.
Behind his mask, he trudges up stacked stones and finds a lamb waiting on the ledge. The bearded innocent sits on his heels with a belly full of porridge laced with root magic. Soft to the touch, the lamb weaves on his knees, coherent enough to remain upright as the sinew cord hovers past his face.
He tenses the cord tight to test its strength as the seer below raises his sharp blade to the stars and speaks a litany of words only gods comprehend. The Owl waits for no seer. He pulls the cord tight around the lamb’s neck and crosses his arms, tugging its ends with the power of a running horse.
The hefty lamb’s backside leaves his heels, and the Owl’s erection stabs his back. Pleasure soaks his brain as the man flails enough to dislodge his mask.
Aedan’s smile, rarely seen, forces onlookers to turn away. Though used to ritual murder, this feels unsavory. Even the seer stands slack-jawed, no stranger to violence, yet Aedan’s delight twists his seasoned stomach.
The Owl won’t drop this kill—no—he arches his back until the lamb’s legs kick the sky. Then, a pointed spear drives past his chest, its sharpened end poking a clean hole in the lamb’s crown, stilling him. He drops the dead man, who hits the ground in a fetal pose.
Ostin cuts the man’s throat, and with that—Aedan wakes underwater, a beefy arm under his chin, a hard cock stabbing his cleave.
He drives his head back, striking his assailant. Behind him, the lion-turned-man drifts away in a stupor, a ribbon of blood curling from his nose.
Aedan swoops in and swallows the man’s hefty arousal. Its outer skin tastes of apples, bringing up honey as it stabs at the back of his throat. He grasps the man’s muscular globes, squeezing greedily until hot brine floods his mouth.
He sinks into the darkness, a trail of milky white curling from his lips—the warm day sun blinds in the warm morning wind.
No revelers remain, their tents gone with the night. Alone on the platform, Aedan watches some druids wash the lamb.
“You’re not your father’s son,” Ostin grouses, leaning on his rod.
Eadaoin falls to her knees. “What did you see, Ancalite?”
“He saw nothing,” the seer yammers. “The Gods tasted his murderous glee and showed him his destiny, not ours.”
Aedan rolls to a handstand and then tips over, landing before the Bibroci woman.
“What did you see?” he asks.
Water bleeds from her eyes. “My tribe in chains among the wolves,”
“My tribe will pleasure the wolves and swim the seas,” he boasts.
“That is your fate,” Ostin calls, limping away. “You’ll be the last Ancalite to die, but you’ll die all the same. Every one of you will die.”
“We’ll be free,” he yells.
“Free as an owl in a lion’s cage can be,” come Ostin’s final words.
He enters Ciniod’s mourning tent uninvited and kisses his father’s head. It stinks of decay, though flowers pack its mouth, and her son’s lips remain long enough to bring her discomfort.
Finatan’s perched owl moves one step left for the young man and hides her eyes behind feathered lids—that’s when Ciniod notices a new Owl standing before her.
“Our gods gave your father to the Romans,” she whispers.
“You dare mourn him,” he seethes softly. “When you mocked, nagged, and cajoled him across the water to his death.”
Ciniod launches. “I loved him-”
“—You loved him so much you sent him to die!”
“They attacked our kin across the water!”
“Your kin, your fight!”
Taran enters, and Ciniod raises a hand.
“Matrimony is a shared life,” she tells him. “Best times and bad, two remain one.”
“And with you, the best times are always bad.” The gangly man steps into her. “My father died because of you. Not Gods and not the Romans. You.”
“Aedan,” Taran scolds.
“You defeated every alternative he brought,” he accuses, “and gave him no peace until he did what you wanted when you wanted and how you wanted.”
“He died with honor,” Tara argues.
“He died for nothing,” he growls.
Ciniod looks into his eyes. “What did you see last night?”
“You took my father from me,” he glares. “And I will never forgive you for it.”
A second passes before spite becomes her.
“Fintan’s not your father, boy,”
“How dare you,” he gnashes.
“Oh, I dare far too often!” She turns her back on him. “You’re a product of stupidity between me and my brother.”
Taran’s head pivots from Ciniod to Aedan and then back to her.
“You may carry your anger to your deathbed,” she speaks to her son’s scowl. “My life continues either way.”
Aedan comes up behind her and whispers in her ear.
“I hate you, mother. I always have and forever will.”