(As usual, pronunciations are included at the end.)
Peadar had many times heard the legends. He’d grown up knowing stories of evil spirits that lived in the stone beneath the town. But he had, like many, dismissed these as tall tales, as manifestations of fear from a time long past. But it had been many years since the Battle of the Green Keep, and there were now few who regarded these stories as anything more than fiction. Peadar was not one of them. His mother, however, was.
“Be careful,” she would plead, weeping as her son marched off to work another long day. “There’s salt in this earth, just waiting to be dug up by some careless miner—”
Peadar shrugged off these outbursts. It was all he could do. He knew the stories were hogwash, but if he tried to convince her otherwise, she’d only cause more of a scene. His mother’s hysteria, despite her relatively young age, was unyielding. She’d been mad ever since Kerrigan, Peadar’s father, had disappeared nearly ten years ago, when Peadar himself was hardly old enough to work. Peadar had become the breadwinner, and his mother’s mind had cracked.
In spite of her protests, Peadar continued year after year doing the only decent job available: working in the mines. The very same mines his father had come to Marmairadh to work in.
The weather was overcast as he made the familiar commute across town, past the fishmonger and the dock on the Red River. It wasn’t actually a town, and instead more of a small village, with a population of barely 100. It was relatively new, growing up around the mine in barely a generation.
As Peadar walked, he waved at all the familiar faces of the village: Bebhinn, the old baker’s wife, making a delivery to the blacksmith’s house; Torcán, the local fisherman, selling gudgeon to one of the other miners, coming home from a night shift. Eventually he came to pass by the biggest building in town, the Murphy House, in which lived Garbhán Murphy.
Murphy was a stout man, not technically nobility but certainly as pompous and rude. He was the de facto governor of the village by virtue of employment—the majority of Marmairadh’s inhabitants, those who didn’t own a business, were either his employees or one of their dependents. At this moment, he happened to be standing about fifteen meters away from the mouth of the mine, barking orders to a group of miners.
When Peadar approached, Murphy dismissed the others and turned to face him. His pale, narrow face wrinkled as he frowned.
“I had to take care of my mother.”
Murphy scoffed. “It’s always that damned mother of yours. You’re over an hour late. How am I supposed to run a successful company if my workers refuse to come in on time?”
Peadar bit back a retort. He knew the consequences all too well. “I’m sorry, sir.”
“You’d better be. I need another ton of ore by the end of the week. You’re going to have to work a few extra hours tonight.” A subtle grin crept across Murphy’s face. He’d always had it out for Peadar, going back to when he’d first inherited the mine from his father. Peadar’s own father, easily the most efficient miner among them all, rarely put up with Murphy’s disrespect. When Kerrigan disappeared and Peadar started working in the mine, Murphy revelled in the chance to berate and abuse the son of his least favorite worker. He often did so by forcing Peadar to work long hours. Rarely did he pay extra wages for this labor.
Peadar, not wishing to stir trouble, simply nodded and followed his comrades into the mine. He already worked well past dusk as it was. With all this extra work, he’d be here until midnight or later. The baker, who lived next door, would almost certainly be willing to spare a loaf of bread for his mother, and for this he was thankful. But she was still to be alone for at least twelve hours.
The air in the mine was musty and thick, which didn’t improve Peadar’s mood as he worked. All day long, he stewed in his thoughts. Thoughts of his mother and her condition, of his father’s disappearance, of Murphy and this stupid mine. Murphy didn’t deserve his position, nor the money and power it afforded him.
In fact, Garbhán Murphy hadn’t actually founded the mine. That accomplishment went to his late father, Eamon Murphy. Over 40 years ago, Eamon, an out-of-work miner with aspirations of wealth, had been rowing down the Red River in a small boat, when at some point he fell asleep. The little dinghy drifted ashore in a calm stretch of the river, and it was here that Eamon found a sheer cliff. Taking a chance, he began digging into the cliff face, and almost immediately struck iron. It wasn’t long before Eamon Murphy became a fairly wealthy business owner. The town sprung up around the mine, and the rest was history.
Unlike his son, Eamon had been a fair and respectful employer. He paid the miners well, often befriending them and even, on occasion, working with them in the mine. Growing up, Peadar had always heard good things about the man from his father, who had worked for him since long before Peadar had been born.
Then Eamon died, his lungs giving out from decades of stiff underground air. And Garbhán inherited the mine. The town went from prosperous to derelict as many people packed up and moved away. The mine, of course, still made plenty of money, but that fortune now belonged almost entirely to Garbhán.
The thought alone made Peadar’s blood boil. Garbhán’s treachery had led the town, including him and his mother, to poverty. And he’d suspected for years that his father’s mysterious disappearance had secretly been at Garbhán’s hands.
Peadar’s anger fueled his work. Hour after hour, he tore through the stone like it was wet sand. Soon, the other miners began to file their way up to the surface, leaving Peadar to continue digging alone.
Of course, he had no actual evidence to support the idea that Garbhán Murphy had murdered his father, aside from a motive. Others around town had different theories. Some believed his death had indeed been covered up by the mining company, but that he’d actually died accidentally while working in the mine. Others suspected he’d abandoned his family and run away to be with another woman. Peadar’s mother, in her madness, blamed the spirits from the stories. She would sometimes screech late into the night about how they took him and delivered him to the sea god Athasáile, to be enlisted in his foul armies. She feared that one day they’d return, worse than ever before, and finally destroy them all.
It was humiliating. To be bullied by his father’s enemy. To have lost his mother to madness. And to be powerless to do anything about any of it.
Peadar gave one particularly heavy swing of his pick.
The village awoke to the familiar sound of shrieking. It was still dark, though the sun’s light had begun to grow to the east. As was the usual procedure, the baker made his way next door to check on the poor mad woman and her son. She was usually quiet at this hour, as she rarely awoke before dawn. He knocked on the door. A few moments passed, but the screeching continued and no one answered. He knocked again, and still nothing. He moved over and peered through the window—the house was uncharacteristically dark. And yet the woman wailed on and on, as if Peadar wasn’t even there.
Soon, more villagers came to investigate the cause of the continued noise. The baker sent some of them to go find the boy, to check the mines and see if he was okay. Meanwhile, he and some others set to work trying to calm the woman down, to no avail.
Some of the workers made their way to the mine. By this time, the sky was beginning to turn blue, and light slowly filled the world. As they reached the entrance, they noticed something peculiar: a small clump of some white granular substance.
“What is it?” one of them pondered. “Flour? Sugar?” He bent down to touch it, perhaps to taste it and find out, when one of the others grabbed his arm.
“I think it’s salt.”
The miners murmured among themselves, until one of them beckoned the others over to another pile of the stuff. Then another, and another. It formed a trail, which led straight through the bushes up toward the Murphy House. The trail faded at the steps, but the door was broken in.
Peadar’s mother continued her endless screaming, while the villagers waited around outside discussing what to do about her. Suddenly, one of the miners sprinted up to them, panicked and gasping for air.
“It’s Murphy,” he panted. “Murphy’s dead.”
The first sense Peadar recognized was the pain in his arms. Despite it, however, he found himself rowing and not stopping. The sun beat down, blinding him and causing him to sweat profusely. He realized he was hearing a strange sound: water, calmly splashing all around him.
His eyes adjusted to the light, and he finally saw where he was. He was in a small boat, rowing backward on the open sea. His heart might have skipped a beat, but he noticed he couldn’t feel his heart beating at all.
Ahead of him, receding in the distance, was land. The only land he’d ever known.
Why was he still rowing?
He tried to remember how he got here, but all he could muster were flashes. A violent puff of air. An unusual, savory flavor. Murphy’s face, gaunt with terror.
Peadar’s mother lay alone, squirming in her bed. The villagers had long since abandoned her to investigate Murphy’s murder, save the baker, who sat at her side. He alone was present when the woman, in her shrieking and screaming, began to form words.
”The salt… The taint… The curse of the sea… The laborer’s child, and the Second of Three…”
Peadar attempted to stop rowing, to turn around and get back to land. But he couldn’t manage to regain control of his actions.
Eventually, he looked back up. He could no longer see his homeland—not because it was too far, but because a thick fog had rolled in.
And then, lightning. A flash, brighter than anything he’d ever seen. A clap of thunder, just as loud. And as quick as the sound subsided, a powerful, raging storm had rolled in. The rain hammered down like hail, and the water began to heave, whipped up by heavy winds.
Peadar was afraid. A deep, primal fear. But it wasn’t the thunder that horrified him, nor the ocean itself sloshing beneath him. What truly scared him was an awful laugh that filled his mind.
”Yes…” murmured the voice, deep and ancient and everywhere. ”This one’s heart yearns for vengeance. Nothing like his father’s, so kind and noble… He will do nicely.”
The baker watched on as Peadar's mother continued to screech these strange words.
”Evil consumes him… like father before…”
Her eyes flew open. They were black as night, and filled to burst with stars.
”And draws him to lead in the enemy’s war.”
- Marmairadh [mar-mah-ragh]
- Bebhinn [beh-vehn]
- Torcán [tor-khan]
- Garbhán [gar-van]
- Eamon [ay-mun]
- Athasáile [ah-tha-SAI-luh]