The gleeman wrapped his cloak tightly around his body. I thought it was a bit overdramatic, myself. Something that a Britton would do. Still, I was only 9 years old. What could I possibly know?
“He who has ears to listen, let him hear!” the Bard proclaimed, ending his tale. A tale of glory, I guess. Of our High King. I didn’t know Ireland had a High King. I don’t think I even really knew what a High King was. Someone really important, I suppose. All I knew is that I was unimpressed. I was, after all, very young. But listening to the Bard, seeing the manufactored looks of intrest on the faces of my people, I think I began realize something that day. Listening to this man, this Merlin, I think I understood why the grownups often talked in hushed voices, why so many of them had looked so sad. It wasn’t until much later that I fully comprehended this thought, but I was, after all, very young.
Perhaps he spoiled me. Perhaps I thought all Bards were as puffed up and arrogent as Merlin Embries. I didn’t even want to be a Bard myself. It was all her doing, after all. After she came into my life, I couldn’t not sing – it was as if I was besotten or perhaps gaesed like the heroes of old, trapped by an elven woman with a Celtic name. Ironic that, since I’m a Celt with an Elvish name. Perhaps we were meant for each other. Perhaps, in the end, I’ll just find that I ask too many questions.
Well, they say wisdom comes to us all. Eventually.
“Gaedan! Gaedan!” Nothing happened. “Gaedan, hey, what are you doing, Gaedan?” As I recall, it was a nice day – the Shannon was deep blue and smell of salt was faint.
I looked up. “Fishing, I guess.” She frowned.
“You don’t have any bait, chief.” Say what you want about Moll, she always sees to the heart of things. Whether she means to or not.
“I guess I’m just thinking, then.”
She squatted next to me, hands on her knees. “About what, chief?”
“Things. Life. Nothing in general. Just letting my thoughts wander along with the fish, I suppose. Why?”
She looked at me for a while. I had my suspicions about Moll. I think maybe she knew more than she said. “I was hoping… I could help you catch you something.” Then she fell on me and kissed me.
“Why don’t you change your name?” she asked later.
“Why, you think I should?” I guess there was a little edge in my voice.
“Ya, chief. You could be ‘Patrick’. I think you might be a ‘Patrick’.”
“Tell me chief, don’t you want a different name?”
I was 9 again. The golden-eyed Bard held my face in his hand, measuring me for all I was worth, I guess. Try as I might, though, I couldn’t hold his gaze for that long. Not many men could, I’m told. Still… “He has the way of a Bard about him.” Perhaps if he didn’t say that, I might have felt better about the whole thing. But no. Spoiled from the start. “I could, if you like, find fostering for him over in Brittan. My academy always could use a student with his gifts.”
Yeah. Whatever. Go away, Merlin.
“Yes, young Gaedan is rather gifted, Lord Embries.” Fagan. Oh, he was a viper back then as well.
“Gaedan?” Merlin seemed a bit taken aback by that. I’ve heard Merlin had some Celt in him. Maybe he felt a little pecular about Irish names. No doubt Fagan struck the wrong chord in him. Lugh knows he strikes the wrong chord in everyone else. “Tell me boy, don’t you want a different name?” Had I a dagger, I’d have gone for him.
That’s not what he said, of course. But it’s what I heard. And it’s what I’ve heard ever since. Perhaps she didn’t even say it. Maybe she said, “Oh, yes, Patrick is a fine name,” as if she wasn’t talking about someone else while we lay together. Whatever.
I heard what I heard. Let every man with ears hear his own damn thing, it’s what you make of the music that matters, not what the music makes of you.
“… it’s a strong name, or maybe Tedwig, though that’s a Firbolg name, or perhaps … ”
Moll, as you can tell, had a healthy appetite.
It’s the eve of battle.
Tomorrow my warriors and I will defend our lands in this never ending war. We’ll kill them all, or we’ll be killed, and every night it’s like this. Lugh prevent the day when we ever feel this alive again.
And yet we are alive. Look, see, there is Lexinthis, his laugh drowning out the hall, and Kayitlen at his side, holding close to him, sharing with his glee! See how they hold each other, how they live like today is their last. And how all our brave company gathers. I was maybe born for this night, I think. And I smile. There is more sing, after all, and I am not the only Bard that’s lived.
And look! There is Nauc, the unusally boisterous Sylvaan, being taunted by Sonderac, who is teasing him with a torch.
Tomorrow we’ll fight, some of us will die, some of us will live, and we’ll go back to being seperate, the Elves in their lands and us Celts in ours. I’ll probably go back to see my parents in Connla. At times, I envy those that will die tomorrow – they will pass with this night fresh in thier minds.
And since this is the eve of the battle, and since I am a Bard, I am asked to sing…
And sing I did…
As I begin to tune my harp, I wonder, how did I get here? How is it that I was once one of the living dead and now alive, facing death with a smile on my lips?
Ah yes. Her. Well, that is not the story I will tell tonight. Here it begins, however…
“There was, I am told, a family of little means in Connla. It is true, since many families in Connla are of little means. Connla is of little means. This particular family was one of a man named Kelley, and the Kelleys had a problem.
“One day, as they sat to break fast, a rat, one of the largest rats they had ever laid eyes upon entered their house and jumped on their table. The family backed away, as they were in awe of such a large rat, but also scared out of their wits! No sooner had the rat entered and jumped on their table, did it eat all their food and then leave.
“Dinner came and after a hard day of work did Kelley come home and find the rat had just came and left, leaving his family without food for the night. The children’s stomachs grumbled and his wife was near to tears, but all that was cooked and edible was eaten, and the only full belly belonged to the rat.
“‘Lugh help us!’ cried Kelley. ‘We will surely starve to death!’
“The following day, Kelley bought a cat that was known to the people of Connla to be good at catching rats, and took the feline home with him. The cat was of an odd manner, as all cats really are, and it simply sat down by the fire and fell asleep. That night, when dinner was laid out, the rat returned, and finding the newest addition to the family, bristled its back, but made to speak with the cat to see what this curious creature would do.
“‘How goes, friend,’ said the rat in an easy manner. The cat made no reply.
“The rat tried again. ‘I say, how does a curiousity like yourself find itself in this place of all places?’ Still, no answer, but Kelley gave the rat an ominous look as if to warn the rodent of what the cat would do should it not leave.
“Nervous now, the rat backed up from the dozing cat and after a moment of consultation with itself, struck out at the cat, hoping to slay it while it dozed. However, the cat was quick and light of foot, and it dodged the initial attack. The fight was on, and a furious fight it was. However, the cat was beaten by the larger rat, and it slinked off back into Connla to lick his wounds. Woe was the family of Kelley as the rat jumped back on the table and devoured the dinner that had been laid out.
“‘We’re finished now,’ lamented Kelley, ‘That theiving old rat will eat all of our stores and leave us to starve!’
“For three days and nights, the rat returned and claimed the food it felt was owed to him, and yet, there was no sign of the cat. On the fourth morning, however, the cat appeared, and in tow was the largest cat the Kelley family had seen. The first cat resumed its position back by the hearth, but the larger cat settled into a chair back along the shadows. They were fed milk as a token gesture, and the Kelley family prayed mightily that they might be able to stop the rat.
“Breakfast was served, and no sooner did Kelley raise his fork to his mouth did the rat appear, and in seeing the cat back at its place, snickered, and fell in to attack whom it had so easily bested.
“However, when the rat struck, so did the large cat pounce, and the fight was joined yet again, this time with large cat against the rat. The fight lasted all day and into the night, and when the sun set, the large cat finally killed the rat.
“Both cats were given their share of milk for their efforts, they spent the night warm by the hearth, but when morning came, they were gone, never to be seen again.
“Let every man with ears to listen, let him hear!” I have sang and will sing no more tonight before this crowd of warriors. “Tomorrow is a day of battle and no more will be said for tonight!”
… to be continued …