Áine grabbed a sword that had been left in one of the rooms and started breaking locks on the remaining doors. She burst in, announcing the news to the souls within, gently pushing them to the doorway where they could see the light. They scrambled to enjoy their newfound freedom, kissing her with happiness and running on their way.
Suddenly she felt a pain in her heart; a sharp pain that sent her reeling. She grabbed her left shoulder and stood against the wall to catch her breath. She ripped open her tunic to see what was there, wondering if she had been hit or lashed unknowingly. There was nothing. Her skin was soft, smooth—and whole.
She thought of returning to the main room with the others to tend to it, but shook it off. The hallway of doors would end soon.
Her face was flushed and sweat formed on her brow but she held onto her bare shoulder and pushed herself forward.
At last she could see the final door. With her remaining strength she lifted her sword with both hands and smashed the lock, breaking it open.
She burst in, mustering up some courage since what she had seen in every room so far had been beyond belief. She cried out, “You are freed! You can go now!”
There was one lonely window, and she squinted into the darkness. Perhaps this room had always been empty. Perhaps it had been waiting for a “guest.”
Then she saw him tied to the wall. His hands were bound above him and his handsome chest was bare. The dull light from the window revealed his sullen expression. He turned his face away from her, resentfully.
“You’re freed! Let me help you undo your ties.” She gently maneuvered her sword under the ropes that bound his right hand. The pain in her shoulder caused her to wince and she shook as she cut through the cords.
“No. No. I don’t want to go.”
“Of course you do. You don’t know what has happened. The Lord of the Lost Souls has been bereft of his powers. You can go now.” The cord came undone and she took his hand rubbing where it must have been sore from so long and tight a bond.
“NO! You don’t understand me. Put it back. I will put it back. I…I don’t want to leave here…. I—I must stay.”
“Ok. Ok,” She said gently, ignoring his request and moving to the other hand.
Angry, he grabbed her shoulder and looked into her eyes. As he touched her, Áine felt weakness flush through her; a strange sensation as if her body were full of butterflies longing to fly away. She swallowed the feeling and looked back at him. Unwittingly, his eyes embraced hers.
He looked down, his long dark lashes forming a crescent against his cheeks. “You don’t understand… I… I… must stay…” He stopped. He turned his head away.
Áine drew herself up. She was not going to let the very last soul remain trapped within, no matter what the reason. She pursed her lips and stiffened her back, “If you were under a curse, I understand, but there is no curse which is not broken now.”
It was no use. She could not pretend his presence did not make her heart open to him. So she gave up and sighed, “Look, take a chance and see what happens. No one is going to stop you. If you want to stop yourself, go ahead. But maybe there’ll be something else, something better.” She cut the ropes holding his left hand. He stood so close to her that she could not move or think clearly. She could feel his heart beating. He looked at her as if he’d found water; he had not seen a woman or any person in what must have been centuries. He did not inhibit his desire to drink in every shape and crease and line of her face and lips. Finally, she backed away. She knew he must have been deeply wounded in this place for so long, and so she asked tenderly, “What’s your name?”
“Ecne.” He sunk down to the floor and did not move for quite some time. He awoke strangely aware of himself, as if he were looking at himself from far away, high in the ceiling, and his body was down below. Then he awoke again, facing her, pleading with her. “You must leave me here.”
“Why do you keep saying that? What’s wrong?”
“I am the son of Donn,” He’d said this to himself a hundred million times, but this time it sounded silly, empty. He shook his head as if to clear his mind. “If I am let out I will kill my father, or worse, become like him.”
“These spells are broken now.”
Ecne looked at his hands, and blinking as if he were seeing himself for the first time and listening to his own lips repeat the words, like a command, “How can the spell be broken? It’s been in place for centuries, millennia.”
“We are the new people upon this Earth. You are freed of any curse from Donn. We are the Tuatha dé Danann.” She took his hand. It was warm and soft. Relief washed over him, taking away ideas that were not his own, ideas from the past, ideas he’d been given from someone else. They rushed from him like a powerful waterfall, washing over him and carrying him on a new journey. “All of the spells that held you here are broken. You are free. Even if Donn was your father, it does not matter now. You can choose how to use your own power.”
Ecne was speechless. But he rose. He looked down at his body that had been covered with the dust of ages and saw his skin flush and become clean again. His leggings turned to a brightly colored shade of green, his open vest shone with gold thread as if it had suddenly been polished.
He followed her into the hallway where the open doors shed light upon them. He saw the others rushing to the great hall and Ecne’s despair changed to hope. He nearly ran into happy children squealing with excitement and anticipation and men and women holding hands and singing. Ecne felt relief pour over him again like a basin of sweet, warm water that was dumped on him, washing away his past and making him laugh—loud and hard. He forgot what his father had done or said, curses or otherwise.
He turned to look behind him. There was only a light pouring through the hallway. Gratitude swelled in him, nearly knocking him off his feet. He looked down and saw Áine’s hand in his. He looked into her eyes and admiration flooded through him. All at once life filled him completely. It was true—he was free!
With an electric elation that shot through his body, he began to run. It was a feeling he’d never before known; If his heart could be thrown from the bottom of a stony, cold well into the bright, sweet light of day, it would be his! He laughed and held Áine by the waist and spun her through the air, “It’s true! It’s true! We’re free!”
Soon they approached the open doors to the great hall. There they stood, atop the marble staircase. Ecne took her in his arms in an embrace; one she hoped would never end. He pressed his lips to hers in a long and loving kiss.