The Third String.
Tales from a Dagda Bard
The Third String.
Tales from a Dagda Bard
They had carried him inside as quick and as full of care as they could. Outside the Battle continued despite the fall of their King. It would be no easy feat to carry the day given the blow struck against the People. Their bid for land on which to live may end this very night.
The draoi were already waiting and chief amongst them was Dian Cecht, the most knowledgeable and skilled of the Tuatha De Danann in the ways of healing and surgery. With this life to save none raised questions and all worked diligently.
Nuada lay on the table, covered in his heart's blood. Scored and scraped, the most grievous wound of all was the loss of his arm. In his moments of consciousness, there was one he called for, one whom he needed to hear from. One who could tell him the truth of what happened.
The Dagda was soon at his side.
The Plains of Pillars had seen Battle for three long hard days. The hosts had gathered as agreed. Bres had seen to the exchange of spear for javelin and both peoples had looked to thier production and training so that the day would be carried by those of skill and courage instead of some imbalanced technical advantage.
The conflict had carried back and forward each day, one side or the other taking some ground but neither finding full dominion over the other so that as the sun set each night, both forces would retire, rest, heal and plan the next days battle.
It was in such a meet that the King, Nuada, called together his chieftains and champions and set forward his idea.
“Long and hard have you all fought, and carried each a heroic burden of battle so that you stand tall with honour upon you, but pained by your wounds. Tomorrow we must try something new.”
The King looked to one and all and drew forth the sword which he had carried from Findias.
“I will take the vanguard role tomorrow and call out their King and inflict mortal wounds upon him. With their King fallen, their resolve will break and we can at last claim a victory.”
Every eye in the rath was held by that sword and the strong arm which wielded it. All knew of their King’s prowess in battle and it was said that once the fight was upon him, and that sword in hand, none could stand against the wounds he would bring upon them.
Still there was one chieftain who held a doubt in his big heart and as the warriors and leaders left to rest and plan the next day’s victory, He remained behind.
“What is it my big friend? I know that look on your face as well as if it were carved upon my own.”
The Dagda shook his head and moved over to his friend and King.
“This isn't wise Nuada. The extent of our foe’s skill and strength has not been fully tested. True there is much to gain by pushing for a victory, but the risk to you is as equally great. The loss of our King may do more harm than you have considered.”
Nuada was known as a fair and strong king, having lead the People to Eire, but as with many who rely heavily on their own talent he could often be blinded to the possibility, and indeed the price, of failure.
“Now now friend, there is no need for such thoughts. What day of conflict has there ever dawned, that I did not carry it with the edge of my blade and with the swing of my arm? We have seen what these Fir Bolg can muster and mighty as they are to stand against us so long, they have not faced the cut of my skill. They are little more than savage brawlers”
Dagda shook his head to see his friend so blinded by his own pride and so he tried again to bring some balance.
“You do them wrong, Nuada. They are honourable and fierce and they fight for that which they too see as their birthright, Eire. To dismiss them as you have is not wise, it’s false pride and could lead to disaster. I say again, reconsider.”
At this Nuada was rankled to be so questioned and even rebuked. He was King here and the swing of his arm and this blade was death and doom. None could stand against him, so who was the Dagda to question him on his decisions and speak so of a failure that could not exist. The Big Chieftain spoke of pride and it was pride which he had wounded in his King.
“I see the toll of this battle has been heavy upon you Chieftain, if it has taken your confidence in your King and your friend. My decision is made and you had best come to terms with your unfounded fears or they may do you harm come the morrow. Once this sword is in my hand none can stand against me, this is the truth that will bring us victory tomorrow.”
Dagda met the steely grey eyes of his friend and King and knew that his words had not been heard and so his heart remained heavy with doubt. For the third time he spoke.
“I can see that your mind is set and your pride is wounded to my words, at least let me stand by your side the morrow so that my fears can be set to rest and your safety assured should they by some chance come to pass.”
Nuada’s temper flared, grey eyes flashing to heat and face filling with angers rush.
“I am no child in need of coddling and can look to my own protection, Chieftain! You will take the lead of our left flank tomorrow, alone. Maybe there you can find your courage and be of use. This is the order of your King and you will follow them by the oaths you swore to me.
Last words. Leave!”
The Dagda straightened to his fullest height, His own anger stoked by the words of his friend and King, but honour bound and oath sworn he was, and with that he left.
The next day the Dagda’s rage had not cooled. He had spent the night pacing a ditch into the earth about his camp and as the battles call came he was already covered in muck as sweat.
His King had given him an order and called upon his oath to enforce it, instead of his friend taking on advice and asking him to fulfill a role.
Some might argue that there was little difference once the job was done, but to the Big man from Murias the manner in which a person acts defines the person that they are irrespective of the results they achieve.
The Dagda was ever an amiable and compassionate companion, but none would doubt the strength of him nor the courage of his heart. Until now. Careful of himself and his anger, he had stayed away from the rest and revels of the night not wanting his hurt and rage to spill on to others with some ill conceived thought or word.
Snatching up his weapons he strode off towards the left of the Plain striding to the fullest extent of his big legs so that he out paced all others and arrived to stand in the lead so that the lines formed up about him.
As the warriors gathered they glanced in a hurried worried manner to the big Chieftain at their centre. Today brought no quips nor jokes from the Dagda. No reassuring remarks nor boisterous blather. The large form stood unmoving and silent, the waves of his anger rolling out from him so as to bring all about to silent stillness.
Across the Plain the Fir Bolg gathered, and as they had in days past they called and jeered and cheered to the forces arrayed against them. This was how each day had begun, with each force’s warriors and heroes raising their voice to tell of their deeds the previous day and raise new threats for the greater achievements in the battle to come.
This day, the Tuatha De Dannan forces remained silent and unmoving, wrapped as if in some spell by the big man at their centre.
The Fir bolg forces grew steadily louder and more colourfully irate in their cries and jeering seeing the steady silence as a weakness or fear in the force arrayed before them.
Still the Tuatha De stood, waiting for word from their leader and following the example he set.
Finally the Fir Bolg chieftain could stand no more of this, seeing the silence now as an insult, that these foes deemed themselves to proud to engage in the sport before the battle. So it was that he ordered his Warriors forward and into the charge.
The forces of the Tuatha De watched as with a great cry the warriors of the Fir bolg broke into a staggered rolling charge that soon had their whole host bearing down upon them. Every eye was on the Dagda, waiting, yet still he stood.
The noise of the descending horde increased as they closed the distance, soon it was possible to make out particular figures in the mass, waving their weapons high and screaming insults and threats.
Just as it seemed they would be washed under by the wave of warriors, The Dagda moved.
Without word or gesture, the Big man charged.
So sudden was the shift that not only were his own forces wrong footed but so too were the Fir Bolg facing him. They staggered a step in their rush and that was all the Champion needed. In the passing of a breath it seemed, the Dagda was among them bowling the first warriors over with his bulk alone, then setting his arms to swing, bringing death to those who came within reach.
The Dagda released his rage, setting it upon the Fir Bolg and with a thunderous bellow began cleaving hard into their ranks so that more than a hundred had fallen before the first blows dropped on any other of the Tuatha De Danann. With the release of their Chieftain the voice, the People found theirs and descended upon the now staggered Fir Bolg.
This days fighting was fierce, as all about many warriors fell on both sides. The Dagda waded deepest among the foe, laying harm and mortal wounds within the range of his broad arms and here it was that word reached him.
The King, hard pressed in battle, which none would say he could stand against. The Fir bolg had revealed a large warrior and this Chieftain of theirs was equal if not more than the King’s skill.
All seemed to stop around the big man. Heart hammering thunder blood in his ears, he could not believe that they had heard correctly. Nuada hard pressed and likely to fall? His King, his friend battling and set to be bested? If he could not believe his ears, He could believe his heart.
It had told him, warned him, whispered to him that there was yet some threat unseen to the Fir Bolg. They were descended of the first great tribes such as he and the People were. Why would they not possess equal courage and skill?
His heart had warned him, and he had failed to warn his friend. A friend now hard pressed and failing.
The moment broke, and the Dagda moved.
Nuada had entered this days battle with his mind set to the plan. By the strength and skill of his arm, the sharp swift strokes of his sword, would the conflict be won and the ascendancy of his People assured. This was what a King should be, an example of fierce power and pride, set to carve their place in the stories by their skill and their courage.
What did that big fool know of such things? Lumbering about in easy companionship with the People. Ditch digging, wood chopping and food gathering. A King should be above these things so that the People had someone to look up to, to aspire to, a leader.
The battle began this day as it had many others, both forces gathered facing one another, yelling, cheering and jeering so as to raise the blood and inspire the fight frenzy. As Nuada stood loosening the muscles of his arms with easy swings he couldn’t help the drift of his gaze towards the left. There was no way to see his big friend given the expanse of the battle formation but it struck him as odd the see that section of the host stand in silence.
With a shake of his head he dismissed the thoughts and made ready to win this day upon the edge of his blade.
The clash, crush and clamour of conflict took the morning and made it noon, and always Nuada moved where the battle was fiercest, committing himself and his guards to the hardest harshest sections of the embattled forces. Many a mortal wound feel from the strong swing of his sword, cleaving and cutting the Fir bolg down wherever they stood before him.
So it was that the King pressed forwards fastest and farthest of his forces, pushing the foe back time and again. That is until the canny Fir bolg sprung their trap.
Nuada and his guard pursued another rabble of warriors as they fled from his might, only to have them stop abruptly and form a tight group before them, the spears they had built from the sharing of knowledge presented forwards in a spiked wall of death.
It was then that the King realised the error of his pursuit. Glancing about he saw that other groups had formed similar spear walls to either side and even as the thoughts of flights began to him another group cut in behind, long spears pointing both inwards and outwards, closing off any aid from reaching the now surrounded Tuatha de Danann.
Completing the circuit the king looked back to see a small opening in the spear wall through which a tall muscled form stepped.
“Pride and hubris are poor traits for a King to rule by, but I guess this lesson may come too late for the likes of you Nuada King. Today your rule ends and with it the conflict for Eire as no Peoples can stand without a worthy King.”
At this a rain of javailn descended in upon the group, expertly thrown by those most proficient in their use. Nuada remained without harm, but now stood alone facing this foe.
“Come then King of the Danann Peoples. Know me, for I am Sreng, lets see your worth.”
So saying the tall figure charged, sword and shield setting a momentum of slash and stymie that Nuada was instantly pressed back and working furiously to prevent wounds upon himself. He held for a while, keeping clear of harm, but the toll of the days conflict was heavy upon him and already his arm was weakening.
The skill and strength of this warrior was unlike any that Nuada had seen from the Fir Bolg. It was in this moment that the words of caution resurfaced in his mind, this time clear for their concern of him and not as question to his skill. He had been warned but took no notice of the warning having missed its intent by being caught on the words.
Pain unlike any he had felt burned its way across his consciousness sending him staggering and stumbling until the ground took him. He looked to the side and saw that magnificent sword of his, clutched in the strong grip of his swift arm, an arm that was no longer attached to him.
A mortal wound done upon him, Nuada’s gaze turned up to the sky seeing the swift passage of clouds the same grey of his eyes. The view was then blocked by the large warrior, standing tall over him, a spear, de Danann people had taught him to make, held firm in his strong arms.
“Time to die, knowing you have failed your People.”
Nuada’s gaze came down to the tip of that spear, seeing its sharp point so skillfully crafted. At least he would die swiftly upon a well made weapon. Nuada closed his eyes.
It was then, that thunder struck.
With an almighty crash the spear wall to the left was shattered, bodies thrown all about in disarray as something massive and powerful exploded through them. Sreng glanced up from his death blow to have his vision filled with a massive worn, muck and blood covered fist.
The crash of impact set an echoing deafening noise all about the Fir bolg’s senses leaving him staggered and dazed. The large warrior stumbled back towards his people and recovered, head still ringing, his eyes cleared to see a massive figure standing over the prone form of the de Dannan King.
Bulky and broad, heavy with muscle, with some girth around his mid, the figure was covered in muck sweat and foe blood, breathing vasts gasps of air, feet planted solidly, rooted to the spot.
Yet this warrior too was alone and despite their entrance Sreng could see that the day weighed heavily upon them.
“You have arrived in time to die with your King brave warrior, but the day is done and it is our victory. No peoples may stand without their King,”
The Big warrior took a moment to catch his breath and despite Sreng’s words none of the fir bolg seemed eager to engage him.
“This battle you have won, Warrior of the Fir Bolg, but the day is lost. The Left side of field is already broken and fled and I would not be long expecting our northern friend Aengaba to be upon you from the right. Might be best you walk away from this one.”
Sreng had long served as champion among his people yet he had never met a warrior such as this. Broad and powerful, even covered in war blood, the man spoke softly and with a firm confidence sought to end the conflict. Yet Sreng was not to be stirred, his people had fought long and hard these past days and with Nuada King fallen, there was much to be gained in ending him and calling the war done in the act.
“By the strike of my hand this day, I could end blood shed for all the next days for both our Peoples. I cannot withdraw and will grant you the honour of dying with your King. Fare you well, Rolaig Builc.”
With those words Sreng gestured and closed with this men upon the great warrior with the the belly, and the fallen maimed King.
The Big man made no move and only released his breath in a heavy sigh and prepared to defend his fallen friend. It was often this way on the hard days, when words fail and all about is conflict and aggression. He was no better than any other but he knew at least that he should be.
The Dagda stood, giving no step back and denying all the chance to strike at his friend.
“That’s the truth of it Nuada king. My warriors broke through and I had them carry you away. Aengaba did arrive but found his match in Sreng and has fallen this day.”
Nuada sat propped up and pale from the loss of life's blood. The stump of his arm ending in a sutured and sealed state even as Dian Cecht hovered close at hand observing.
“King I am not for I am no longer fit, by form and by deed. I am just Nuada now.”
His voice was weak and strained and Dagda could see that the sadness was heavy upon him. Behind the crippled warriors shoulder Dian Cecht made a gesture of concern which the Big Chieftain knew well. Dagda the draoi knew the harm that a sadness left unchecked can do on a person.
“King you may no longer be, but well loved chieftain and champion of our Peoples you will Always be.”
Dagda’s words were soft and gentle but with that firmness that brooked no arguments.
Nuada’s grey eyes met the warm earthy brown of the big man’s and Dagda saw that, though clouds remained there was still light behind that look.
“I would foresake all that too, if only I could be still called friend by you.”
The Dagda found his smile and shared it fondly upon Nuada, allowing the warmth he felt show clearly upon his face.
“Sure I am, and always will be your friend. Trough strife and revel, labour and rest, you can be assured of me by your side. This is truth.
The Dagda’s smile turned more grin seeing his friend’s humour raised.
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An Scéalaí Beag