Shrieking Mandrakes by Leigh Holland
Chapter Two: The Devil in the Details
“You’re the devil.” he said from the other side of the door.
“Oh, don’t be silly.” I protested. “The devil is bigger. He’s also taller and has more money.” As I thought of the gold I lost in Dublin, I decided being the devil would’ve been okay by me.
The door opened and he stared at me in wide eyed wonder. “You know the devil?” His voice was intensely serious and had become a soft whisper.
“Oh, my, yes!” I responded merrily. “We Twyleth Teg types get around the supernatural world, you know.” That seemed to hold his interest, so he came back into the room to talk some more. “Why?” I asked. “What’s on your mind, Kieran?”
He paced about a bit, like an expectant father. Priests are called ‘father’, right? Oh, an accidental funny! Anyway, next he asked me, with an obsessive gleam in his eyes, “Can the devil ever be saved from Hell?”
“Oh, my. A philosophical discussion, is it?”
“No.” he insisted. “I just want a straight answer. Surely, you’ve asked him, since you know him so well.”
“Whoa, hold on, I said I know him, I didn’t say I knew him well.” I corrected him. “And quite frankly, I was just there for the whiskey. He was fun to play drinking games with, but beyond that…”
“Summon him, then, and ask him straight away.”
I sighed heavily. “Look, I owe the guy money.” I turned out my pockets. Oh, wait. I was wearing leggings. It must’ve looked like I was fondling myself. It felt good, anyway.
“How much do you owe him?” he asked, annoyed.
“Why, are you going to pay him for me?”
“I don’t know.” he replied. “Depends on how much you owe him.”
“How much do you have?”
His eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Why won’t you tell me how much you owe?”
“Kieran, I only ask because I don’t think you have enough to pay him what I owe.”
“Is it your soul? Did you sell him your immortal soul?” Kieran demanded angrily.
I laughed. “No. I couldn’t do that, even if I wantedMy soul has a Tynghedau laid on it, like I explained before. I’ve been tynged. I’m not summoning the devil for you.” I leaned closer and whispered, “To be truthful, he wasn’t a fun guy to drink with at all. He pissed in the wine jug and turned everything to vinegar, then stole my best mate’s girl. He has serious issues he needs to resolve. His people skills are even worse than yours.”
Kieran looked despondent. I hated that. I said, “If I did summon him here, what would you ask him?”
Kieran answered with a heavy heart, “If the fall from grace was worth the consequences.”
I snorted and chuckled. “Well, he seems to enjoy pissing people off, getting people in trouble, causing misery, and the like. I think the moral of that particular story is that sibling rivalry is a bitch, but we’ve got to learn to deal with each other, haven’t we?”
Confused once more, he demanded, “How do you get that out of the story of the devil?”
“Lucifer is the morning star, the first among the heavenly host. Then God decides to become a parent again, and sees more of himself in the human than He did in the angel. In fact, in one version, Adam looks just like Lucifer, who in turn was most like God. Lucifer throws a fit over the favoritism shown the younger sibling, disobeys God, and gets sent to his room, also known as “Hell”. Then he tricks his little brother into being disobedient too. Adam gets sent to his room, known as “Earth”, which if you ask me is not much better than Hell. And the two siblings have been at each other ever since, eh?” I made up a bunch of blarney. I figured he was homesick for Ireland.
“I never thought of it quite that way before.” he admitted.
“Personally,” I threw my own spin on it, “I think the devil is just a metaphor for the competing desires within you humans. The desires that go against what your society du jure says are good and noble; those desires are from your so-called ‘devil’. Ah, but let one of you do something noble and good, and you take all the credit.”
“Who would you have us give the credit to?” he inquired sarcastically.
“Me, of course.” I nudged him out of the way and resumed preening. “Do you have a brush? My ears need grooming.”
He put his hands on his hips. “I thought you said you knew the devil?”
“Kieran, what kind of a holy man are you? We all know the devil. Intimately. But I see your dilemma.”
“What do you mean?” he seemed worried I may have figured out some deep dark secret of his. “That you have a deep, hidden shame that you don’t want made public knowledge.” I whispered. “Don’t worry. You can confess to me. But only if I get to wear the dress and collar.” I flashed him my most dazzling grin. My ears stood to attention, perked up by the exciting prospect of wearing a costume.
Kieran made a very frustrated sound, one I was all too familiar with when in the presence of the sons of Adam. “Why on earth would I want to confess to you? You will only make sport of whatever I tell you. Everything is a big joke to you!”
I thought of my lost Deep Pocket, and all the rubbish I had lovingly stowed inside it over the years. Stolen, stolen! Stolen by the King of Annwn himself, no less. “Not so,” I replied, choking up sincerely, “sometimes the losses are a heavy burden to bear. That is why I make light of things. Without a sense of humor, how’s a pwca to survive?”
He laid a hand on my shoulder to comfort me. A sincere desire to alleviate the pain of other living beings shined through his eyes. Kieran was a very good soul, even if he didn’t believe it right now.
“You must have such stories to tell, having lived so many lifetimes.” he remarked. “There must be so much wisdom hidden beneath that jovial mask of frivolity you display in order that others may not see the real you beneath.”
Priests suck. That’s what I get for letting my guard down. “I don’t know if I’d call it wisdom.” I shrugged, folding my arms across my chest defensively. “It’s just a bunch of memories. Really.”
He became quiet and still. After a few moments, he turned to his desk, retrieved ink, quill, and parchment, and prepared to write. I lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling and contemplating pissing on the Llamhigyn Y Dwr on my way out of this place, once I was well again. Kieran said, “You told me you owed me a great boon.”
No. No, no, and double no.
He continued, “I want you to repay me by telling me your stories.”
I took in a deep breath as a cold draft flew past Kieran, then through me and into nothingness. He shivered.
“What was that?!”
“That was our bond.” I rubbed my temples. My headache was back. “I am bound to repay you with my stories. Once my stories are finished, I will be free to go, but not before then.”
Kieran apparently didn’t comprehend the word “immortal”. I was going to be bound to Kieran for a very long time.
“Look,” I informed him, “I’ll tell you my stories. But I will tell them to you in such a way that you cannot discern which person in the tale was me. You may write them down, if you like.”
Kieran was delighted. I grinned mischievously as I told him, “I’ll be telling all of them in Welsh, and you can write them in Welsh.”
He frowned. “Why?”
“You are obviously from Ireland originally.” I responded. “And have only come to this parish recently. Tell me, Kieran, why aren’t you still in Ireland?”
He seemed ashamed. “I don’t want to discuss it.”
It would take time to build trust between us. A lot of time, given that I’m not very trustworthy. So, I didn’t push him. Instead, I began telling him a story. In Welsh, of course.