LJ Chat, Day Two, Post Four

Originally posted 11/18/2011 at the Circlet Press Livejournal


Since the rest of my day is about to get crazy (the bus will be here in half an hour), I’m going to get this up here now. And talk about Oscar.

Oscar was, originally, a spear-carrier. He was there to be a foil to Arlaith, and nothing else. At least, that’s what it says here. He had other ideas. He turned into a smart-ass, a pivotal character in the whole thing, and one of the most tragic characters I think I’ve written to date.

I love him to pieces. Which is probably why I whomp on him so much. I’m a student of the Mercedes Lackey school of writing: Create a sympathetic character that everyone loves…. and then drop a mountain on him.

Oscar… has a hell of a mountain.

Personality-wise, Oscar shows my age and obsession a bit. He’s very much a blend of two characters in my mind, the first being David McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin from The Man From UNCLE (like I said. Showing my age).  The second is more recent, and didn’t emerge until I really started writing dialogue for Oscar. That’s when Benedict showed up.  Benedict Cumberbatch — my current obsession. If you haven’t yet seen the BBC production of Sherlock, what ARE you waiting for? It’s magnificent.

Anyhow, Oscar turned into this really fun blend of Illya’s aloof “Yes, I AM better than you are” attitude, and Sherlock’s smart-assery.

It was at the end of that year, on the morning of the Longest Night, that I woke with a fire in my head that would not be stilled, would not be quenched. The magic that Gaynor had long suspected slept within me had awakened, and he brought me that day to the sorcerers, kissed me on the forehead and bid me be a good girl, and left me to their care. It was they would have the teaching of me until I was judged ready to stand among them as a full sorceress. I worked harder then ever I had before, even as a slave in the inn, learning the ways and words of power. Before, learning had come easily to me, but no longer. Now, every day was a struggle to learn, to succeed and prove myself worthy to remain, to not be sent in disgrace back to Gaynor’s house.

Female students in the college were rare. I was the first in a generation, and thus I was considered an oddity. Moreso once the other students somehow learned of my history. Overnight, I became an outcast among those who should have been my brothers. Again, I heard the names I thought I’d left behind; they called me Wild Muirenn, Mad Muirenn, and they tormented me with wild tales of my life with the beasts of the forests. None of this was said where the ollamhs who taught us could hear. Not that they would have done anything to stop it if they had heard. Rivalries were common among the students, and were thought to help strengthen us against the rigors of the world outside the school.

As I grew older, the stories changed. It was whispered from every corner, from every shadow, that Mad Muirenn was not the maid that she claimed to be. I was a wildling, and I had lain with the wolves, they said, as had my mother before me. I was the child of a wolf, and I had taken mates among the packs that ranged in Uragh. I was not human, I was a beast, and beasts had no place among sorcerers, save only to serve them. What they meant by serve was very clear.

To ward off the increasingly more persistent advances of some of my fellow students, I set about making myself as unattractive as possible, and began to affect a wildness that reflected the rumors they told about me. I wore men’s clothing, shapeless garments that were often dirty. I allowed my hair to grow wild, and I plaited it with feathers and leaves and sweet-smelling herbs. I kept my own counsel, and I walked alone in the forests often. Faced with what in truth seemed to be a mad child, a wildling, most of the boys left me in peace. The ollamhs noted my appearance, but none remarked upon it. It became normal, as such things were considered normal. Mad Muirenn, who went with rushes in her hair and mud on her face, the wildling who would be a sorceress. Even the boys who had once pursued me so ardently came to ignore me. All save one.

I was beginning my final year of studies when my dealings with the other students came to a boil. At the heart of my troubles was Bricriu, a boy a year or so younger than I. He was the oldest son of the the Ard Ollamh, the chief among all our teachers. Bricriu was the undisputed prince of the college, spoiled and pampered. Anything that he wanted was handed to him on a platter, and anything he could not have, he wanted. That, somehow, came to include me.

At first, he was solicitous, treating me as if I were a high-born girl, and not one whom he had been tormenting for the past several years. I ignored him and focused on my studies; I had heard that in the spring, the established sorcerers would take on apprentices for advanced training, and I meant to be one of those chosen. I still dreamed of the mysterious Oscar, even thought I had seen him only once since that first time. That once had been shortly after I had started at the college; he had come there with a cartload of prisoners, and had spent hours closeted away with the Ard Ollamh, only to leave in a temper. He had not returned since, but I’d heard tales of his demands for information. Something about a spell that he was trying to break, although I knew no more than that. I wished him well, regardless.

Despite only having seen Oscar twice, I was still fascinated by him, and I had learned more about him in my time at the college. Learned that he rarely came to the college, never taught there, regarded most of the sorcerers there as worthless.
And that he had never once taken an apprentice. In my mind, I would show myself to be better than the others, better than even my teachers. I would show myself to be worth his attentions, and he would take me as his apprentice. After that, my mind meandered into territory in which I had no experience. I knew nothing of men and women. I knew only that when I thought of Oscar, there was a heat inside me, one that felt similar to my magic, yet not the same. I had no idea what it could be, but I wanted it, wanted to understand it, and I knew I could never unlock those secrets without his help.

I should, perhaps, have paid more attention to Bricriu, if only to notice that he had stopped pestering me. But I was lost in my studies, and in my daydreams. I spent long hours with the ollamhs, practicing and reading, often until late at night. It was on one such night, late in the winter, that I gave in to my exhaustion and left my scrolls behind to return to my bed. I knew the paths of the college as well as I knew the lines on my own hands, and I was half-asleep as I made the silent, dark walk back to my lonely cottage. Halfway there, I stopped and looked up at the night sky and the stars, hazy from the wards that had recently been layered and relayered over the college grounds. I remember the ollamhs warning us not to walk alone outside the walls of the college, remembered them telling us of the creature that now hunted in Eire — a deamhan aeir, a nightmare straight out of legend. A chill wind blew along the path, and I shivered and pulled my cloak tighter around my shoulders, hurrying the rest of the way to my cottage, hearing my feet crunching on the snow as I walked. As I made my way to the door, I heard scurrying footsteps behind me. None of the other students lived near me, and there was no reason for anyone else to be abroad this late at night; I turned and frowned, seeing the empty path behind me.

“Is someone there?” I called. The only answer was an owl hooting; I shook my head at my own foolishness and turned, intent on my bed. As I reached my door, I was hit from behind, someone knocking me to the ground before grabbing me and pulling me into my cottage. I may have cried out, but if I did, no one heard. Before I could shout again, he hit me, hard enough that I knew nothing for several minutes. When my head cleared, I found myself sprawled over my bed, a cloth shoved into my mouth, with someone crouching over me, tearing open my leine to expose my breasts. I started to struggle, clawing at his face with my nails; he cursed, and I recognized Bricriu’s voice. I saw him raise his hand to strike me… then he was gone, pulled off me as if by a giant’s hand. I pushed myself up, holding my torn leine closed with one hand while pulling the gag from my mouth with the other. And I saw, silhouetted in the door, a tall, thin figure. I scrambled to light my lamp, fumbling over the fire-calling spell, unable to order my thoughts or control my magic enough to do the most basic of spells. I heard a voice, clear and wondrous deep, speaking the words, and the lamp flared to life in my hands. I turned, and saw Oscar standing there, fury writ plain in every line of him. Of Bricriu, I saw no sign.

“Did he hurt you?” Oscar asked.

“… no,” I answered softly. “I… he did not hurt me. Thank you. Where… what happened to him?”

“I sent him to his father,” Oscar said. “Under a compulsion. He will tell the truth of what he meant to do here. I suppose I should bring you there as well, so that Cathbad knows that this was not some jest.” He stepped back from the door and gestured. “After you?”

I stared at him for a moment, then slowly got to my feet, holding my torn leine closed with both hands. I felt a brush of feathers on my bare arm as Oscar moved past me, then the warm wool of my cloak settled around my shoulders. He pinned it carefully under my chin and stepped back to look at me. He frowned slightly, cocking his head to one side and just… looking at me.

“Is… is something wrong?” I asked.

“No. Just… why all this?” His gesture took in my matted braids and my dirty cloak and gown. “Wildling, you do realize that you’re taking the ‘all sorcerers are mad’ nonsense just a bit too close to heart?”

I blinked, startled, and saw his mocking smile. Saw beyond it to the teasing humor in his startlingly pale eyes. A giggle escaped me; he nodded once, then waved the lamp flame out. “That’s better. Come along. Let’s go see what happens when we stir up the hornet’s nest.”


Oscar must have known what the reaction would be, because the area around Cathbad’s rather grand hall did indeed remind me very much of a riled hornet’s nest. Oscar ignored all of the bustling and the outrage, putting his arm around my shoulders and guiding me through the press as if the crowd was not even there. He entered the hall without announcing himself, and led me straight up to the head of the hall, where I could see Cathbad and Bricriu. Bricriu looked like a statue, his eyes fixed and staring at some point far in the distance. As we came closer, I heard his voice, flat and emotionless:

“… attacked her. I forced her down and hit her when she screamed, and I gagged her so she could not scream again. I tore her clothing, and I was going to rape her. Then I was going to strangle her and dump her body in the forest for her beasts.”
I flinched at hearing plans for my own murder, and Oscar’s arm around my shoulders tightened. “So, Cathbad. Do you believe me now when I tell you that the boy is a menace?” he called.

The Ard Ollamh stared at Oscar, then sputtered and pointed at him, “You! You did this! You made my boy say these things! Have you not caused enough trouble…? ”

“Your boy did those things, and would have done more had I not stopped him,” Oscar said coldly. “I’ve brought the woman with me. Her injuries and her clothing will add to the truth that Bricriu speaks. I charge him with attempted rape, Cathbad, and with intending to commit murder. Will you summon the Brehons, or shall I? I should tell you that he will remain in just that state until his words are heard and acknowledged by one of the Brehon judges.”

Cathbad went pale as death, and he shook his head. “He’s my son…”

“And the woman is mine.”

Everything stopped. I heard nothing else, saw nothing save for Oscar’s proud profile. His? What did he mean?

“The woman is mine,” Oscar repeated. “I claim her as my apprentice. Injury done to her is injury done to me. I am within my rights to demand log nEnech, or see him sold as a slave…”

“No,” I whispered, interrupting him. Oscar glanced down at me, one eyebrow raised in silent inquiry. I shook my head and repeated, “No. Not slavery. The honor fine, yes. Dismissal from the college, if you think that necessary. Not slavery.”

He nodded and turned his attention back to Cathbad. “My apprentice has made her wishes known. Before the Brehons, I will demand log nEnech, and that Bricriu be dismissed from the college of sorcerers. See to it, Cathbad.” Without another word, he guided me back out of the hall, leading me down a path and away from the college, towards the cottages where the ollamhs lived.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“I keep a house here, even though I never stay here,” he answered, and I noticed that never once had he taken his arm from around my shoulders. “You’ll be staying with me, as is appropriate for my apprentice.”

I stumbled, and he slowed so that I could find my footing again. “You… you were serious?”

“I never make jokes, Wildling,” he answered.

“You do!” I blurted. “You were teasing me, not even an hour ago.”

I looked up, and in the moonlight I saw the corner of his mouth twitch. “Ah, but that was not a joke. Now, the first thing you will do as my apprentice… what is your name?” When I hesitated, he sighed, leading me into a house. Once inside, he waved his hand once; all of the lamps flared to life, revealing a tidy workspace, and a pair of beds tucked into opposite corners. Only then did he let me go, moving to stand in front of me. “I can’t keep calling you Wildling,” he pointed out.

I looked down at the rushes on the floor and answered, “I… they call me Muirenn.”

“Muirenn,” he repeated, and the sound of my name from his lips sent shivered up my spine. To my surprise, I felt his hand under my chin, and he raised my face so that I was looking into his eyes. “I understand why you’ve done all this, but you needn’t try to hide behind your hair and your past any more. No one will try and hurt you now that you’re under my wings. So, your first duty as my apprentice is to bathe, Muirenn. Comb out your hair. I wish to see you.”

His hand where he touched my skin was oddly warm, and I swallowed once before I could answer. “Yes, Master.”

“Oscar. Call me by my name.”

“Yes, Oscar.”


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