Well, I told you there’d be fiction again! I figure after that doozy of a post, I should lighten stuff up. But I also want to stay on target somewhat. While thinking about what I wanted to write in the previous entry, a thought had occurred to me that I might have another outlet for expressing my anxiety, one that would also allow me to work on the well overdue The Priest of Smugglers’ Run. Of all my characters, the one that would absolutely struggle with anxiety — in fact, I think he does without me even having known about it — would be the titular priest, Protharious.Continue reading “Protharious”
There was something in the way that his shoulders slumped. Perhaps there was too much breath in his sigh, in the barely audible groan that accompanied it. His eyes, always so alive and inquisitive seemed dimmed, focused too much on the ground. Whatever it was that tipped Joanna off, she knew without Kevin saying a word that his day was too long to forget over one drink.Continue reading “sober”
He sits in the breakfast nook, an artfully designed corner of the otherwise empty house with bench seats that look out on the Douglas firs. A cup of tea is before him, as is a single English muffin. This has been his routine now for six months. Get up, run around the property and the hills beyond. Shower, dress, enjoy a cup of tea and a pastry of some sort. And then?
September the 11th. For Americans, it’s a date that carries a lot of memories and sorrow. It also carries with it a rising level of jingoistic rhetoric and overly patriotic statements, the tragedy too large, I think, for our sound-bite culture to digest properly, too real to be actual memory. It’s a political day, as all events in the US are, it seems, as politicians reach out to their base with varying levels of thinly veiled xenophobia or condemnations/accusations of such.
Okay, enough of my fatigue of American politics.
One story below us in one of the few parts of Singapore that resembles a proper grid, the lights came on. While the city didn’t cool as much as one would expect as the sun fell1and rarely does, truth be told, an orchestrated dance of fans, some styled to resemble those from a more, colonial time, moved the air above us, cooled the room with the peanut-shell covered floor, proved proof against sweat in a city covered with it.
My legs are stiff and sore, the result of climbing countless steps on our journey to heaven. Many of the great temples of Angkor are designed as representations of Mount Meru, the holy mountain of the Hindu, Buddhist and Jainist faiths, the five spires of the temples symbolizing the five peaks of the mountain. The most famous of these temples, Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world, looks like it only has three spires when viewed straight on, but it too is a symbol of heaven on earth. We stood in queue to climb to the top of that building, waiting our turn to see heaven.
It was the sight of a couple, riding a bicycle built for two, wearing bug eyes and antennas that broke a storm of weeping for the city we’ve come to love. I couldn’t help but laugh, how much more Portland could that have been? It was something straight out of Portlandia, us in the car, her crying at the sight of two weird denizens on their silly bike. Clouds rolled overhead and the wet streets reflected whatever sun was available. It was the worst day of the year.
It was sometime late October when she had something to say. She’s reserved, so much so that she likely will dislike my sharing that fact, but her reservation is never more present when she thinks confrontation looms. She is to be forgiven for fear, however, because what she was about to say would start one of the most important conversations of our lives.
She was testing the waters of a move to Singapore.
It’s the music… it’s a blast of air, a dive into a cool lake, all of this is what it feels to be spirited away by a song. You tap a few strings, and it’s magical from the start. A vibration in the string, it causes the air to ripple, and you shiver with it. The movement creates a distortion, the distortion creates more motion, and the rules of the physical world bend to your will. To your voice. To you.
It’s the only religion I need…
“Gaedan! Heya chief, how you feelin’?”
The attack by Roisin has changed our village already. Connla now mutters darkly at the intentions of elves, and the greviances against England are forgotten for a while.
“Yeah,” I wave my hand, hoping to stave her off, but Moll, if anything, is persistant. “I’m fine.”
“Did that girl hurt you, chief?” Concern? Perhaps.
I wonder, at this point, did I dream of Roisin? I know now that she exists, haunting the empty space between memory and fantasy like the banshee Fergus claimed her to be. From beyond the veil?, I wonder…
“You don’t look hurt, chief. Let me help you catch something though?” And there is real desire in her eyes.
A choice? Does Moll really lo…
“Looks like the bard-to-be caught himself something already.” Moll gasps, but I knew already who it was. Her. Excitement is hardly the word.
Roisin takes her time approaching us, circling around Moll, who is paralyzed with fear at the moment. I could care less, though. I look at Roisin, drink in every detail, admire how well shaped she is. My crimes are not often greater than that. Roisin grimaces. “Kinda small though. I’d throw it back if I were you, Patrick.”
She turns on me. “Or does this one have her hook into you, I wonder?” she says with a wink.
Moll sputters. “Just what do you think you’re doing here, you almost hurt Gaedan here yesterday and I know you’re just looking to do it again!” Wow. I didn’t know she had it in her.
Pursed lips. I could die right now if I hadn’t just started to live. “Well, if he’ll let me, sure. Do it again and again and again and again until our limbs fall off.” She smiles. “Sound like a plan to you, Patrick?” Oh, how she teases!
“But he’s not Patrick, Patrick is…”
“I know who he is,” Roisin looks me over and picks her nose. “He’s mine.”
“Wha… what… do you mean?”
A rumbling. Not foresight, no, for Moll can feel it too. A tremor? No – it’s above ground, a force, an army? I look to the west, towards the sea, and then inland. It’s on the hill though, that I see them… oh yes, the Siabra. I have foretold your coming, you that want to be the death of me, the ghostly renegades that have defied the Elves.
I squint. They stand on the hill overlooking Connla, letting the town take them in and be afraid. A motley band, not large, 20 men perhaps, but they are desperate people, robbers and cutthroats all. The townsmen scramble – women and children into their meager huts, the menfolk grabbing what weapons they can – mostly rusty falcattas and clubs. Roisin is now missing, which worries me. I wouldn’t think her to back down from a fight. Moll is cringing behind me now, wanting me to be her protector.
Me! A Bard! Protector of only one!
I urge her into the hut nearest us. Some of the older men and boys are inside with bows ready to defend. I take rank with the men, ready to defend our village and our lives.
We bellow out our defiance. The siabra charge.
We leave Dun Ailinne
My companions are somber. Running from Druim Ligen has burned off the excess energy that the prospect of battle can bring. Now they are alert, calm, focused on the grim art of war. We move on speed lent of sound, the only noise we make is by the concerted strings of us Bards. We are upholders of battle, after all. Wise men, prophets, royal advisors, emrys and magicians all are at the heart, living songs, tied inexorably to the eternal battle of our people.
And that is what I am. A living hymn of glory, destined to live and die in battle. And it is my song that will see the day through, make no mistake about it.
It is a responsibility I gladly carry.
And I begin to tell how it may be…
The siabra rush has pulled us off balance. Lugh blind them, they are a canny lot! We recover, however, the loss is dire – Tedwig has fallen, a brave Firbolg lad. I mutter a dirge for him, but carry on with my grim work. I am no Bard yet, I tell myself.
We regroup at the north end of town. The sky is now littered with arrows, neither side wanting to step out from cover after the first rush. The siabra have underestimated us in their first attack, and it has cost them dearly. They still hold the advantage of experience, though.
The arrows stop. The men mutter. Something is coming.
And we see it, all too late. The siabra advance now with interlocked shields, mostly made of wood and lashings, but they hold and deflect our poor arrows. Several of them hold back, looking for targets to expose themselves. The siabra reach our first position, and the din is awful. Arrows seethe into every place we allow – the battle has turned.
My thoughts are frantic. I search for the words I need to turn this battle. I scream, I am a Bard! But nobody hears. Nobody can listen. And in the smoke and confusion, I see my father.
And he is going down.
Confusion clarifys. What was once chaotic has order. The siabra have stopped, their faces blank. A note…
… a song…
My song! I feel the power within surge as the music flows from me, and once again, I enter the veil between worlds.
Come summer, Come winter!
Mouths of harps and bags and pipes!
And she is here.
Roisin explodes into vision, still in her armor, sword in hand, she’s jumped off one of the huts into the fray, her blade tearing the siabra with vicious precision. Her warcry is lost in my song, as is everything at this moment. The air itself is alive with sense, the tingling vibration of my tenor has made the hairs on the back of neck stand at attention, it’s a power I never dreamt of, and it’s mine to command. With a wave of my hand, I see the ills of my people fade from sight, wounds restored as if they had never been delivered.
Yet, I cannot take my eyes of Roisin. She darts from enemy to enemy, her cuts quick and deliberate, never missing, never lingering. The remaining siabra turn to flee from our deliverer, but those that are not cut down as they turn have their lives extended only slightly as we rally.
And as if it were that simple… the siabra are defeated.
… to be continued …
You have heard me before a battle. You have heard me speak of life. Now let me speak of death and the ending thereof. You say I speak in riddles? You say I speak so that you may not understand? No, I tell thee, I speak so that you may understand. For mine is not a tale of easy understanding, after all. Mine is no simple child’s fable about a rat, after all.
The answers are always the same, after all. I tell you this story because I have to. Because I could not imagine not telling it to you.
And like all good stories, it starts with a woman…
“Go away Moll.” I think I might have actually meant that.
“You don’t have to be so insulting, chief.” She’s pouting.
“As a matter of fact,” I say, drawing up to my full height, “I do.” She pouted. She showed me her birthmark again. And she wondered why I’ve been sending her away. I walk away.
“You know, about Patrick…” I stop.
There is a moment in time when things stop along with you, I’ve found. Time is only perception, after all. We think of things as “time really flies when you,” but time doesn’t move, it’s just us moving around it. When time stops, I’m not sure if it’s me that’s stopping, or if I’m really just catching up to time.
This time, time caught up to me.
“Gaedan!” I could hear the puffing on Elara’s lips. “Gaedan! Gaedan!”
The puffing got louder.
An awen. My first, truth be told. Let every man hear!
A faceless mob. A voice in the din. A laugh, a cry, a song. A woman, full as nature itself, offering herself to me. Another cry, this one in lament. Sorrow fading, indifference fading, it’s a song that I can’t deny. I see the mob before me, their arms in the air, cheering me on. I see her at my side, urging me to fall, to jump, to crow like a rooster and sing for the crowds. A laugh and a cry, it all sounds the same when you’re on the stage. I lift my lips, I take a drink of nectar that is borne of no fruit.
And I sing.
“Oh there is no death of me!
There is only wide blue sea!
Send me off, ship me to Western Isle!
For here begins the tale of how truth may be!”
For a moment, all is right. There is nothing, no breeze, no land, just the sea. Then ground reasserts itself to me, and I fall…
And, again, I awake from a dream…
“Oh! Gaedan, you’re awake, chief.” Oh Lugh, why punish me?
“That’s enough Moll, let him be. Why not go tell his parents that he’s awake now, child.” Elara. Bless her.
I open my eyes. The awen hit me hard, but I’m still here, still in one place, in one time. When the foresight hits you, you feel like this. Strange. Alive. Even incapacitated, barely ambulatory, I never felt more alive. Elara is standing over me.
“How are you feeling,” she asks. I nod. Words aren’t comig to me yet, I’m still trying to relearn how to speak. Again. The foresight will do that to you. And it feels great.
“Gaedan,” she begins, cautious around me. As if Bards everyday just started into prophecy, into song, around her. “There was a visitor, an elven woman. She insisted that she see you, but I told her that…”
The door swings open.
And words cease to fail me.
“You!” I cry. I’ve never seen this woman before, but I knew her every detail. The golden hair pinned behind her head, her hair straight and molded, unmoveable, but short, so unlike an elf. She’s wearing armor, too, blood red scale, armor that seems to have been made for her body, so unlike an elf, so full it makes my heart ache.
She smiles, and I am lost. But I know what’s coming. The test. I am the one, after all, that she’s been seeking.
She jumps and nobody sees it. Her arms have now gained five feet of tempered steel, as she leaps towards my resting place, the small hut now resonated with that war cry of hers – a sound, again, I’ve never heard it, but from that moment on, I would never forget the harmony of her challenge.
She comes crashing down into my bed, the sword sheering where my head was, and the world is upside down and then right side up. Down feathers fly everyhere as I lunge for the sword on the wall that I’ve never used. She stands erect, now her face is hidden in shadow, and I think I prefer it that way. Her sword is held out, feathers fly around her, but her eyes are boring into me as I stand ready. She pounces and the fight is on.
We fight, we sing. My blood is pumping now, into every vein, and it’s liquid music and lust and love at once. “Oh Kelley”, I sing, “your rat had better be tough to face us!”
And like that she’s gone, fled before we can be prematurely interrupted, no doubt Elara has run for the guard thinking the woman an assassin of some sort. Oh, let them hear whatever the hell they want to her.
She has come, I think, and I am alive after all!
No doubt, it was attack, they said…
“I tell you, James, she was a banshee, one from across the veil, sent to kill us in our sleep!”
“Thats, ‘take you away in your sleep’, Fergus,” my father said. “And mark my words, she spells trouble from the elves. Even those Shar seem tame close to those creatures.” It’s the midnight council, we’re back in the trees, away from sight and habitation.
“Either way, James, it’s a grave threat to Connla! We must send word up to Howth for protection!” Fergus. At least he’s not Fagan.
“Bah, just be on yer guards and yee’l be fine. Young lad here seems to be rather quick with that blade, aye?” I nod. Old Kennedy this time. I liked that old man. “Aye, and to hear him proclaim today! Aye, lad will be a Bard in a few short years, mark my words.” He took a swig of his whiskey. “Any clue what she be after with ye, lad?” he asks. “Or who she be?”
A name. What was it that hack Merlin once said… a word is given when a word is required. Well, I hadn’t needed much help with this one…
“Roisin.” I wanted to melt then and there.
“Roisin?!” My father exploded. Short temper, but he is a Celt. “Now they take Celtic names!”
I shrug. “So how do you know this… Roisin?” I shrug again.
“I don’t. But something tells me I ought to. Something tells me,” I say, hoping to hide the hope in my voice, “something tells me, she’ll be back.”
And while the old men around the fire spoke of Elvish plots to take their land, I sat, cloak around me, already feeling the stiring of music within take a hold on my soul, and thought… this is the awakening, after all.
This is it, after all.
… to be continued …