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There was an old saying “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” After the Veilstorms, folk instead say “That which does not kill us, may transform us…”
In the time of the Piercing of the Veil, there was a dancer called Badhbh. She dwelt in a small village on the outskirts of a great forest, and her skills were greatly honored. She was embarrassed by all the attention; Badhbh merely loved to dance. However, she traveled to the larger city for her performances, often followed by the young men of the village. They used to say her dance was the dance of moon and stars across the sky, or light as the fall of a leaf in autumn, always alluring and fascinating. Men looked upon her with deep desire. Women wanted to be her. Crowds cheered and fell over one another in their rush to the stage, much to Badhbh’s alarm.
A drummer and a singer traveled with her, providing music for her dances. Crimthann the drummer was young and married, but the singer, who was somewhat older, looked upon her with knowing eyes. His name was Donn.
They all went to the city together late one summer, when strong winds were blowing across the land, to play her annual performance. People stopped and waved, smiling at their wagon as they passed, and more than a few farmhands would jog alongside them, hoping for a smile from Badhbh. Donn occasionally gave them a song, but though his voice was rich and rolling, they only ever wanted Badhbh and her dance.
In the crowded, bustling city, they prepared for another packed performance in the outdoor theatre, strung with streamers and windblown flags left over from midsummer celebrations.
That night was warm. The press of people craning their necks to see the lamplit stage must have been sweltering, but up on the stage a breeze was blowing balmy across Badhbh and her companions. Donn draped his cloak over her while they waited for the crowd to sit. When she was ready, Badhbh folded it over the side rail with a smile just for him.
A hush fell over the audience as Crimthann began to beat his bodhrán. Donn started his song, a pulsing, moving tune that pulled at Badhbh and made her move. The people watched in awe.
A wild, fey mood came over her, and her dance grew more forceful. Something took hold on that starlit night, and Donn’s song picked up speed. The rhythm filled her, and she moved with greater purpose than ever before. Her dance was stunning, and she knew it. She could feel the eyes on her, the weight of their gaze pushing her forward and back.
The cloak rustled in the wind that was kicking up, in time with the kicking of her perfect feet, which moved as if on their own. Donn had always said she had perfect, shapely feet.
The wind blew the cloak that Donn had given her onto a corner of the stage. Normally, it wouldn’t have mattered, but on this warm night when her dance was so wild, she was all over the stage. Her foot landed on the smooth cloak and slipped, sending her to the floor in a heap. Crimthann’s drum-playing stopped, though Donn’s steady voice kept on with the song.
The spell was broken. Men looked at each other, blinking in the yellow lamplight.
With a chorus of grunts, they rushed for the stage, reaching out hands to grab her. It looked like a forest of fingers in the dim light, trying to pull her, take a piece of the moment, or a piece of the woman that enraptured them. Badhbh screamed as the over-eager fans snatched at her.
Then Donn was in the way, pushing back the mass and shouting at them to get away, leave her alone. He threw kicks and punches, unleashing an unexpected fury. The singer pulled her away and behind the stage. As the noise of pounding feet and fists shook the wooden frame of the theater, he half-carried her out the back door.
A riot was starting, spreading out into the street. Donn took her by byways and backways to the wagon that would escape the city and take them home. “No one should dare to touch you!” he growled. For some reason, Badhbh could not stop weeping.
Their bodhrán player Crimthann had disappeared, but since he had left his horse in the barn back at the inn, he was probably all right.
Donn knew when to be silent for her. She bounced gently on the riding board. The warm night air was cool on her cheek as the wagon trundled along. The tears spilled down her nose and chin.
“Just let me save you,” Donn said, pulling her close with his free hand, holding tight to the reins with the other. The horse plodded along, content to pull toward the dinner of oats that awaited him at the inn that lay halfway between the town and the city.
“You saved my life,” She told him, holding his eyes with hers. “And I will never forget.”
Donn smiled that crinkly-eyed smile she loved to see. “I’m glad you’re all right. I’d never forgive myself if I let something happen to you.”
“Thank you.” Badhbh rested her head on his shoulder.
Donn cleared his throat. “Badhbh…I must ask you something.”
His deep, melodic voice sounded unusually hesitant, and Badhbh looked up at him. “Yes?”
“Well…Perhaps I could protect you better if…would you marry me, Badhbh?”
She laughed, pressing her face into his shoulder again. “Indeed I would, Donn, if you asked me.”
Donn took a deep breath. In answer, he began to sing an old melody, a song that asked the very question Badhbh wanted to hear.
Not long afterward, they were wed in a flower-strewn woodland ceremony. Together, they danced the night away. Crimthann, his wife, his sister Mongfhionn, and many other friends danced or played music with them, laughing and drinking to the health of the couple.
Shaking out the flowers in his curly hair that was just beginning to grey, Donn asked Badhbh to promise that she would have eyes for him alone, that he would be her one true love, and never hear an offer from another man. Smiling, Badhbh gave her promise to never be tempted and never stray in her affection. She was for him alone.
The newlyweds settled in a new house in the village and professed everlasting love.
It began with a small thing. A dropped word, a swallowed phrase, then a mutter that she was seeing an awful lot of Crimthann or others lately. It escalated to angry looks, things left undone, and watching eyes. Demands for time began to be made.
Then things turned truly sour. For no discernable reason, Donn stopped trusting her to go out alone, even to the marketplace. He began to argue with her about her dancing performances, insisting that they focus more on his singing. “Look at us, now,” he said, patting her hair and smiling that crinkly smile she used to adore. “There’s nothing for you to fear, any more.”
But that turned out to be untrue. As their arguments escalated in force, so did their physical conflict. Her friend Mongfhionn noticed that Badhbh had taken to wearing heavier makeup, and mentioned it on the increasingly rare occasions when the dancer won a fistfight and Donn couldn’t stop her from going out. Their loud fights were becoming as well-known as her dancing.
Badhbh didn’t want to believe it. They were perfect for one another. He just loved her too strongly.
Mongfhionn always looked worried. There was no reason to think that her anxious expression was more worrisome than the rest. There was no reason to think she knew what Donn was doing lately. Keep my secrets, he had said, and let me protect you. She would keep them. Oh, she would keep them so well. She had no eyes for anyone else in the world.
Badhbh’s final undoing began with an invitation to dance. A wealthy couple in a neighboring village asked for the famous Badhbh to dance at their wedding, with a musical accompanist they had chosen. She eagerly answered the invitation the same day it arrived.
However, Donn was extremely suspicious. His scowl burned with the jealousy he refused to control. “This had better not be a ruse, Badhbh. I know you have another foolish man on your hook…you intend a tryst.”
As had become all too common, Badhbh began to weep. Vehemently, she denied his accusations. “No! There’s no one else, Donn! I just want to go and dance!”
“Dance for another man, you mean! In his bed!” Donn slammed his heavy fist into his palm. “You dancing whore, you vile, filthy inconstant, you maddening…”
His wife went very quiet. She stared into his eyes. “I cannot believe this is the man I have loved since he first sang to me. ”
Donn just stared back sullenly.
Badhbh took a deep breath and went on. “This will be a one-way journey. I’ve had enough of this marriage. I’ve had enough of your insane jealousy and your abuse. I will start a new life without–”
His fist connected with her face like a battering ram, slamming her back into the wall of their neatly kept home. “You won’t be able to leave,” he growled, his singer’s voice all harshness. He advanced to strike her again.
Badhbh did not hesitate any further. She snatched up a statuette from the table and bashed Donn’s head, dropping him. She spit on his unconscious body.
For a moment she just stared at her fallen husband. As his head wound bled profusely, she was struck by a sudden terrifying thought. She had killed him. A new confusion and terror rose in her. Not knowing quite what she was doing, the dancer fled her home and ran down the street to Mongfhionn’s house. She needed advice from her friend, and a shoulder to cry on.
Mongfhionn wasn’t home. Only her brother, the drummer Crimthann, was there, eating a small dinner. It hardly mattered to Badhbh. She begged him for help, held her face to his shoulder, and let loose a torrent of bursting fear. Her tears soaked his tunic like a rainstorm. Wondering what had happened, Crimthann tried to calm her with simple words and an embrace.
As fate would have it, Donn was not dead. He awoke from the blow even angrier than he had been, the head wound firing his fury red-hot.
He pulled down the elaborate ceremonial sword that hung above the fireplace and snatched up the heavy walking stick that leaned by the door. Donn ran screaming into the night, calling for Badhbh. The singer rushed from house to house in the bewildered village, searching for her.
Unfortunately, he knew her habits well. Donn burst into Mongfhionn’s house to find his wife being comforted by a man. He was only dimly aware of recognizing the much younger Crimthann.
Donn ranted and raged, accused them of treachery, and attacked without waiting for a response. The unfortunate friend was much younger and stronger, but Donn was faster, impelled by his fury. Crimthann shoved Badhbh behind him and reached for something to defend himself, but it was too late. Before the unarmed drummer could even raise his hands, Donn struck him viciously over the head.
Donn mocked the innocent man as he rolled unconscious on the floor, almost laughing as he sang, “You thought you could take my place and lie in her bed. Now you lie on the floor instead, a dilla-dilla-dandy.”
Badhbh pleaded with her husband, screaming that he had no reason to harm Crimthann. “I will never leave you, my love,” she wailed, “Please stop!” She swung for his face with her own fist, but Donn merely ducked and elbowed her in the throat. As she stumbled back, he swung the heavy walking stick and caught her in the forehead, felling her with a single blow.
Badhbh and Crimthann each awoke to find themselves gagged and bound, spread-eagled between trees. Donn had constructed a small fire nearby. His face, now visible in the fire’s glow, was contorted into a strange grin of rage. “I see you are awake, you lovely innocent people,” He began with a patronizing sneer, “I know it’s not your fault. Badhbh is too beautiful to resist, and drives men mad with desire. I know it well,” he added, staring at her feet, which were a few inches off the ground, “How a dancer can move you. And Crimthann,” He turned to the drummer, “With your honeyed tongue and the chiseled features of a young man, you are just too tempting for a young wife. Don’t worry,” Donn went on, running the tip of his tongue over his dry lips, “This sword will take care of all that.” And he placed the blade in the roaring fire.
Guessing at what was to come, Badhbh thrashed about and tried to break her bonds. However, she could hardly move, and she was still weak from the blow to her head. Donn grinned wider and wider as minute by minute the sword’s blade grew hotter. He fed the flames with more wood, and a wind kicked up, blowing sparks through the trees. His wild hair and wide eyes in the wind made him look fiendish, and he laughed harshly as Badhbh struggled harder.
As the edge of the blade began to glow white hot, he grabbed the elaborately decorated hilt and drew the sword from the fire. Then he approached Badhbh. “Do not worry, my wife, it will be over soon. Then we can be happy again. You will barely feel anything. This blade has been heated well; everything it touches will cauterize instantly. You will live.”
Crimthann’s eyes rolled back in his head and he slumped within his bonds before Donn began his foul work. Blood sizzled and spattered, but Donn was far from satisfied. He looked at Crimthann’s wounds coldly, then turned and grinned at Badhbh, who screamed behind her gag.
The sword blade swung up, glowing and smoking in the morning air, then descended with all the force of Donn’s insane rage. Pain shot through her body, a pain so intense it transcended all other feeling. The sound of her own screams and the sword’s bright arc was all Badhbh could remember of that grey morning.
Badhbh dreamed of death, but it was only a dream. She awoke in a neighbor’s bed. A local doctor bent over her, his face full of concern. He glanced down at her legs, which were under several blankets. Badhbh feverishly tore off the covers, only to discover that her husband had truly done his evil. She let out a choked, gurgling scream that was heard throughout the village.
The doctor jumped, and covered her with the blankets again, but Badhbh had already seen the worst. The heated sword had indeed cauterized the wounds where Donn had removed her feet, just above the ankles. She tried to speak, but only gurgled now. Before his jealous rage was exhausted, her husband had cut out her tongue and carved a blade-thin wound all the way around her neck.
As if guessing what Badhbh wanted to know, Mongfhionn came into the room and patted her hand. “We found you and Crimthann in the woods. My brother…they brought him to my house, but he didn’t survive. Your husband fled at our approach, and no one has seen him since. I’m so sorry, Badhbh.” Mongfhionn brushed her hair back and fled the room once more.
Despair and rage filled Badhbh like a dark pool of poison. Her legs twitched as though they wanted to dance, but they were still blackened stumps under the blankets, no matter how she blinked away tears. Weeping, Badhbh prayed for death, but to no avail.
For close to a year afterward, Badhbh stayed trapped in that room in her village, relying on the savings from her days of dancing and the kindness of neighbors or her friend Mongfhionn.
Over time, a profound lust for revenge began to fill her heart. Her husband remained free and she was trapped in her home, unable to dance or even speak properly. Yet she could still scream, and scream she did, often late at night when her wounds pained her.
Badhbh felt as though the skies over the village began to match her mood, for the winter storms were harsh and unforgiving that year. Winds and heavy rains made the skies seem angry, especially when the first Veilstorm arrived and besieged her town.
As night fell, a heaviness descended upon the village, pressing down like it wanted to stop all breath, all life in that place. Accompanied by the boom of thunder, steaming rain fell like hot blood from the sky. The clouds swirled and magic crackled among them. Lightning struck the earth repeatedly, instantly turning anyone and anything nearby to ashes.
Badhbh watched the rain-streaked window as the walls groaned. The storm ripped at the old house that had belonged to her and Donn. Cracks appeared in the smooth planks, and with a shrieking of wood and plaster the walls began to wrench free of the foundations.
Helpless in the middle of all that chaos, Badhbh began a new prayer in her mind. For the first time since her body had been desecrated, Badhbh actually began to pray for survival. Not to live a new life, however. She called out from her soul to live, only that she might taste the sweetness of revenge. She opened her mouth and let out all she had, a high-pitched cry of fear, loathing, and pure avenging wrath.
When the roof was torn from her home, she was confronted by a Veilstorm whose rage she understood, for it matched her own.
A noise rose in the storm, a scream of wind and anger that could not be denied. Reason and reality themselves seemed lost in the Malevolence that had formed, twisting and tearing everything apart.
When the storm finally abated, Badhbh was gone…along with most of the village itself. Only a few scattered buildings, a few splintered planks, and one bewildered goat remained. The rest of the village had vanished in the storm’s final shriek.
Meanwhile, Donn had moved on to another part of the world, to start a new life. In some degree, he succeeded. He lived in a comfortable house with blue walls, near the nicer parts of his village. He made a decent living with his singing, and his name was finally getting some recognition. He had a warm bed and a few fine things, and even the occasional bit of female companionship. He swore to forget the dead woman that had defiled his marriage bed. Most of his village was untouched by the Veilstorms, and they prospered. He thrived, and considered himself fortunate.
It was the first anniversary of his horrible crime. Determined not to think on it, Donn was sitting at home, reading a book by a fire’s warm light. He was in the middle of the most exciting chapter.
Into the quiet crackling of the fire came a strange knock at his door. It was muffled, and didn’t sound like the rap of a fist against wood. With some curiosity, he pulled open the door. There was nothing there. He felt a slight breeze and thought he heard a soft noise like the flutter of wings, which disappeared after the door was opened.
It must have been a childish prank. He ignored it.
The next night brought a new noise at the door. Muttering that these pranksters were quite determined to annoy him, Donn simply went to bed.
But it happened again, night after night. Each time the knocking was a little bit louder. Donn got tired of rushing to the door and finding nothing but a tiny breeze and that soft noise.
He asked his neighbor to come and watch with him. They spent the evening drinking and playing a game. Suddenly, Donn dropped his drink and started up, rushing to the door, much to the bewilderment of his neighbor, who had heard nothing.
With the loud knock still ringing in his ears, Donn laughed it off. But he could not shake the unsettling worry that no one besides himself could hear the knocking or the strange sound that followed.
The knocking only became more frequent. Donn found himself pausing and listening during meals, and looking over his shoulder as he went about town.
One evening, he decided he could take it no longer. Trying to quiet his breathing, he armed himself with the same elaborately decorated ceremonial sword he’d used a year ago. Donn took up vigil in the bushes just outside his door, hoping to catch the prankster. Enough was enough.
Crouching down in the dirt with iron determination, he watched dusk turn to night. His neighbor shouted at his wife. A few dogs barked at one another angrily, then lapsed into silence. The noises of the village quieted, and a few chimneys began to spout smoke into the chill spring night. Donn turned up the collar on his cloak, changed his grip on the sword hilt, and waited, still as a stone.
A slight breeze picked up. Donn peered through the bushes, squinting into the lamplight that spilled over the front yard. He heard a soft noise, like gauze blown through the air.
Something bobbed up and down in the trees near the road. Someone was coming nearer. Donn smiled, and his eyes burned into the dusk to see who it was. Someone small; a neighbor’s child, perhaps?
But it was not a child. A head was bobbing through the air, a wild-haired head without a body. Donn froze in place, staring. As the head came near him, he realized he could recognize the face. It was the disembodied head of his wife, floating closer. Her once-beautiful face was twisted by pain and rage into the very image of horror. Without pausing, the head swept through the air and struck the door with its forehead.
Donn stood, the sword falling from his numb fingers. He tried to speak, but his mouth was so dry he could only croak. Then, as if it had only just noticed him, the head turned slowly to peer in his direction.
Donn turned and ran, waving his arms as if to ward off pursuit. He shouted into the quiet village, feeling as though his voice was muffled in the cold. His neighbors left their dinner tables and came to the door to see what the commotion was. Donn shouted more, raising his singer’s voice to full pitch, and tried to plead with them for help, but all that came out was a garbled yell.
He reached the town square, where some people were already gathering to stare. Donn fell to his knees and raised his hands. He could feel her presence not far behind him. “I did it!” He shrieked frantically, and began to beat his hands against the paving stones. “I confess! I admit it! I did it all! Oh my wife! Oh gods and demons, I am a sinner! Oh please, please, won’t someone help me!”
He struggled to his feet, but the town watch was already on him. Holding Donn tightly by the arms, the burly men tried to calm him down. Children in nearby houses began to cry as he continued to shriek for forgiveness. Finally, someone stuffed a rag in his mouth.
Thinking his sanity was claimed by the storms, the townsfolk locked him in a cell and set a guard to ensure that he was safe from himself. Surely, they thought, he’d simply calm down and recover from this fright.
Night after night, he complained of knocking on the cell’s walls, but nobody else heard anything. Donn took to singing, humming wordless versions of the songs he knew, the ones he had learned to accompany a dance. His voice carried through the village, lending an odd rhythmic sadness to daily life.
The villagers bore it for a full year, but finally grew so tired of his raving that they eventually decided to let him return home to meet his fate.
Donn trembled as he walked through the streets. Folk were pointing at him and speaking of the village madman, he knew. His good reputation was gone.
It was the night of the anniversary of Badhbh’s death and rebirth. With nowhere else to go, he returned to his comfortable little blue-walled house, now in a sad state of disrepair. Donn carefully locked the door behind him against the spring air. Again this year, the bite of winter’s chill remained late into the season. Licking his dry lips, he sat down by the fireplace. He wasn’t sure when he had picked it up, but the sword he had used in anger was in his hand, resting on his lap.
Donn heard a soft sound behind him. He jumped to his feet, holding the blade in front of him with trembling hands. What he saw no longer seemed impossible to his sick mind. It was his wife, swaying like the dancer she was, but with no feet below the hem of her tattered dress. Only horribly mangled stumps with worried flesh, a few inches off the floor. Badhbh smiled red-mouthed as she glided toward him.
The man who had been her husband stared at Badhbh in shocked silence as she removed her head, right at the thin seam he had carved in her neck. She let go, and it floated, bobbing slowly in his direction. Donn was almost frozen with fear. “I…I’m sorry. Please…please stop…” He coughed and choked. It was hard to breathe.
Badhbh’s crimson lips parted and her floating head started to scream, an unearthly noise that made him claw at his ears to make it stop, but to no avail. Her head came closer, and her red-lipped mouth grew wide as if to devour him. Then she screamed again, and her shriek hit him like a battering ram of sound, driving him back into the fireplace. Badhbh held him trapped in the fire with her screech, her eyes wide with fury and a horrible satisfaction. Donn felt all sensations other than pain leave him. He was lost, beyond all saving and all hope. The man was fully conscious as the flames slowly consumed him, and his screams joined hers in a cacophony of pain, suffering, and loss.
When morning came to the town, a few villagers visited Donn’s house, curious to see the madman at home. Getting no response to their insistent knocks, they opened the door. They found his burned and crumpled corpse in an impossible posture in the fireplace, his seared face frozen in a final cry. His neighbor claimed he was truly saddened at Donn’s passing, but others declared the lunatic was better off. As they left the home, no one noticed the absence of the sword that Donn had hung above the mantle.
It is said that Badhbh has carried it ever since, as a symbol of the horror that was so unjustly done to her. She will never forget, nor forgive. She travels the Realm, finding men and women who have suffered as she suffered, and teaching them to become spirits of eternal revenge.
Thus ends the tale of the first Bean Sidhe.
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