(Author’s Note: I originally started this story back in January but ran into a dead end with the first version. This is a preview to the one I’m currently working on. As it is a work in progress that weaves together elements of Eastern and Western mythologies in a highly modern context, feedback is most sincerely appreciated. Those who want to be alpha-readers for this project can drop me a line in the Comments section.)
It all begins at birth, they say. So why should this particular story be any different?
But this particular birth became a cause for concern among certain quarters. Some locked themselves into dark rooms, muttering among themselves as to what course of action to take. Others simply shrugged; while the partnership between the new parents wasn’t exactly orthodox (to say the very least), it was nothing to be concerned – let alone worried – about…at least, for now.
There were even those who trekked to the mountains of Sagada for the blessed event: a small band of friends who arrived by paths not usually known even by the most intrepid of travellers, paths known to a very select few. Paths that, for all intents and purposes, were best kept secret.
The expectant father restlessly paced the floor, his bright red hair all askew because he kept running his hands through it. Every once so often, he would look up at the clock on the wall and then at the door that led to the private chambers he shared with his wife. Because a long hallway separated the sitting room from the bedroom, all he could hear were muffled screams and the unintelligible soothing murmurs of the midwives and wise women.
Angus was alone just then, warned away by the midwives.
“Kamahalang ginigiliw, you would not wish to bear witness,” he’d been told by Impong Bugan, oldest of the wise women. “’Tisn’t a place – or a time – for menfolk, you know.”
“But what if…” he’d protested weakly.
“Kamahalan, be not a damn tomfool and be still!” Sternly, she steered him out of the bedchamber and into the hallway.
“Don’t come a-calling, kamahalan,” Bugan said firmly before closing the door on his face. “We’ll call you.”
Bluidy hell, Angus thought bewilderedly. Kicked oot o’ ma oon chambers in ma oon house!
He had to concede, nevertheless, that Bugan and the other women were right. Childbirth was no place for a man to be in. He remembered what his brother Bran said, “Lad, men are present for the conception o’ their bairns. I daresay that should be enough for any man!”
Angus ruefully recalled that Bran himself had been present when his daughter was born. He also remembered the loud thud that had echoed throughout Bran’s keep back home when the big man fainted as the bairn emerged in a welter of pain, blood, and other disturbing biological fluids. He had to smile at the memory.
Presently, Agham, the stately old major-domo, escorted a group of visitors into the sitting room. Respectfully, he went down on one knee before Angus.
“Kamahalang ginigiliw,” he intoned, “Professor and Mrs. Cabral – he of the great wisdom and she who is daughter of the Bai – have arrived. So have Mr. and Mrs. Sinagtala – he born of the volcanic plains and she who rules her father’s nest in the north. They have brought their children, as well: young Luis Cabral and the twins Amihan and Makisig Sinagtala.”
Angus bade the major-domo to rise and quietly thanked him, and was about to dismiss him to fetch refreshments when one of the women noted the pallor of his face.
“Agham,” she said to the major-domo, “ask the kitchen if they have anything to bring the blood back into your master’s face.”
“Ah, Impong Bugan left instructions that the Kamahalan was not to have anything intoxicating for a while, ‘Nyora Yumi,” Agham replied with a perfectly straight face.
“Definitely not tapuy,” the red-haired Yumi Sinagtala agreed, carefully studying Angus’s face. “And definitely no scotch for him. I think strawberry limeade all around will do, Agham.”
“You could, however, bring us some scotch,” the dusky beauty that was Dian Cabral added with a mirthful grin as she shifted her baby boy into a more comfortable position in her arms.
“You’re breastfeeding, Di,” Yumi said, raising an eyebrow at her.
“Ohoho! So speaks the woman who took gin-and-tonics to ease her pregnancy pains!”
Yumi grinned at this. “Pots should never call kettles black,” she said with a shrug.
“I seem to recall that you have a Laphroaig in reserve down cellar for this particular day,” Yumi’s powerfully-built husband Habagat said, clapping a hand on Angus’s shoulder.
“Aye, that I do,” Angus agreed, smiling weakly.
“So, I guess that means we aren’t opening this?” Luis Cabral II, Dian’s husband, held up a bottle of particularly fine Spanish cava.
“Have it chilled in the kitchen, Sito,” Angus advised him, nodding gratefully as he took the bottle and handed it to Agham. “Er, would ye all care ta’ sit doon?”
When everyone was seated, he held his hands out to Habagat. “I’ll carry one o’ the bairns for ye, mate,” he said. “Practice, if nothin’ else.”
One of the babies snoozing in Habagat’s arms stirred and opened a pair of big, amber-coloured eyes. The baby blinked and then there was a loud pop as it turned into a small ginger and white tabby kitten, leaping out of its father’s arms and trotting across the floor to where Angus sat. It meowed up at him as if asking him to pick it up.
“Well, wee lassie,” Angus exclaimed as he took the kitten onto his lap, “up ye go.” He turned to the Sinagtalas, puzzled. “Can both o’ them do that?”
Yumi smiled and nodded. “But Amihan is the more curious of the two,” she explained. “Makisig here, not so much.”
“And she can talk now,” Angus added, noting that the kitten was amiably meowing at him. “Well, meow but that’s about the same thing, aye?”
He regarded the kitten on his lap, and suddenly blinked. Images came rushing through his mind: a girl of about sixteen or seventeen with bright ginger-coloured hair and serious amber eyes calling upon the winds swirling around her to do her bidding; a boy of about the same age with very pale skin and very dark hair stood beside her, whistling a tune that Angus thought he would never hear. And the tune sent a chill down Angus Corwin’s spine because he knew that the tune would never be played unless certain circumstances demanded it.
And then the girl was a woman of indeterminate age – neither old nor young, but her beauty was luminous, timeless, and ageless; and she was clad in white and held a bouquet of blood-red roses in her hands as she walked down a church aisle. The pale lad was there and, like her, seemed not to have aged at all; but Angus knew that time had passed since the first vision for the young man’s hair now fell to his shoulders and it curled wildly at the ends. He took the girl’s hand and gazed deep into her eyes as he leaned in for a kiss…
And suddenly, the silence in the room was broken by an infant wail.
Angus nearly dropped the little kitten as he sprang to his feet, but deftly caught her before she came to harm.
“Looks like you’ve got a little one of your own, Angus,” Sito noted with a smile.
The new father looked bemused as the little kitten-girl crawled up his arm to sit on his shoulder. Presently, Impong Bugan emerged from the hallway with a pleased and satisfied smile on her face. She walked up to Angus and bowed deeply before him.
“Kamahalang ginigiliw, you have a son,” she said. “Come: Po-ong Ginigiliw has asked after you and wants you in there with her.”
With the kitten still on his shoulder, Angus mutely followed the wise woman back into the chamber. There, his wife lay back, propped on a pile of pillows. The room had been cleaned post-haste; the curtains thrown back to bring in the early light of morning and a good view of the misty mountains outside. Maya, she who rules the fastness of the northern-most mountains, smiled warmly as her husband kissed her. In her arms, an infant with very pale skin and a small curl of very dark hair on his head slept.
“Our baby is a boy, so that means you get to name him,” the new mother said with a smile.
There was a soft little meow and Maya held her arm out to the kitten. “Is that Mayumi and Habagat’s Amihan? Come here, sweetie; let ninang cuddle you for a bit and here’s a new friend for you!”
The kitten turned back into an adorable baby girl of about three months as Maya cuddled her. Little Amihan Sinagtala cooed and babbled as she reached for the baby and, as her little hands touched the swaddled bundle, the two children were suddenly enveloped in a soft white glow. The new-born boy slowly opened his eyes and smiled at the little girl. He wriggled in his blanket until his mother loosened the swaddling enough for his tiny hands to emerge and touch little Amihan’s. Angus blinked as a tiny red thread seemed to appear, stretching from the ring finger on his son’s left hand to the same finger on Amihan’s left hand.
When the glow dissipated, both Angus and Maya noted that the thread had disappeared. Their son had also gone back to sleep and Amihan was quietly staring at him.
“Well, that was a surprise,” Maya declared, looking from one child to the other. She sighed and kissed her son’s forehead. “You don’t even have a name yet and you’re already betrothed!”
“Corbin,” Angus said, carefully taking their son into his arms. “Corbin, because his hair is as dark as the raven’s wing. And Lakangiting, I think, because I have seen in my mind that he will be called upon to do things – great things – not expected from most men.” He closed his eyes and drew a deep breath as golden light surrounded him and his son. “By all the power I call my own and all the power you will grow into and all the power that surrounds us, I name you, first-born of my flesh and blood, Corbin Lakangiting Corwin.” He gently kissed the sleeping baby’s forehead. “Welcome, ma oon wee bairn, into the world.”
“He is what he is, you know,” Maya chimed in. “Half-fae because of me, and half…”
Angus looked at her in such a way that she fell silent. “He shan’t ha’ an easy time o’ it, love,” he advised her. “And ye ken that there will be those who will seek to either exploit him or destroy him – not only because of what he is, but of what he’ll be able to do.”
Maya nodded. She stared out of the window, watching the sun rise outside. “His powers will be known beyond these mountains we call home,” she said, her voice scarcely above a whisper.
Little Amihan burbled and pointed to the view outside. Maya kissed her plump little cheeks and said, “And you, little queen, will ride and rule at his side; and – I hope – keep yourselves out of trouble, if you can help it.”
The baby girl seemed to understand this, because her expression grew sombre. But she seemed to pat the face of Mayari Corwin, she who rules the fastness of the mountains of the far north, as if to tell her that it was a deal.