The Third String.
Tales from a Dagda Bard
The Third String.
Tales from a Dagda Bard
There had been no harvest worthy of mention and the people grew more concerned. They had first come onto this land and found it ripe with fruits, abundant and green. Now the land was as waste and so it was that the peoples came to their wise poet.
It was he who had calmed the storms with his words and saved them upon the harshness of the waves. He who had cleared the mists which had blinded them and brought them to safe harbour. He who had stood with the Goddess of the land to hear her name, that it may be placed upon the Island.
So it was to him again that they did turn.
The power of the word was his and by its power, he was protected, for all knew that folly would fast fall upon any who harmed a File.
He had seen whence the people of the mounds had gone. Had stood as the bargain was stuck and again by the power of words, was his tribes place upon the land secured. Yet victory had left a sourness to the barter and it was that sourness that had infested the land and the cattle so that no grain would grow, no milk would flow and his tribe was left to suffer.
Amairgen stood before the mound, it's covering of grass as yet green in a land of scorched brown. He knew that his talent protected him, even here among the old tribe. Maybe even more so given their respect and appreciation for the ways of the word. For all that they were of a different line, out of a different land and even a different time, Amairgen held the old knowledge. He knew of Fintan and the early peoples. He knew of the Fomhoire and their levies. He knew that it was first as brothers that the peoples of Nemed had departed the land of Eiru.
Knowledge is power so the saying goes, but what use is power when you fear to use it.
“By Eiru and the right rule of the land.
By sovereign secured and the power of word,
Open and accept me into your hospitality.”
His voice rang about the hill, driven forth with his Will, and then he waited.
“You know, there’s no need to shout.”
Amairgen, turned slowly, careful that the racing of his heart not show on his face to be so surprised. Before him stood one of the folk, a noble figure with a cloak of many hues draped about him and upon his feet were slippers made of shining metal.
“By Eiru and the right rule…”
“Yeh I know heard you the first time. Let’s get stepping. Hospitality is offered and be it upon you to abide by its law. Now, where did I leave that door, come on then, this way.”
The figure beckoned and turned sunwise about the mound. Having been accepted into hospitality and his protection assured by his own actions, Amairgen followed. About the mound they walked, neither up nor down its side but ever about its edge until in the shift of a step, there was the door. It stood taller than a man and easily two abreast. Wrought of darkened wood and set back in the embrace of the earth, it stood closed to them.
“Ah yes, here we are. On you go then.”
The figure of the aes sidhe stood aside and gestured at the door, but Amairgen was no fool and knew that a door closed against him, could not be opened by his hand. It seemed that more words were needed to move forward, so he again called upon the power of words.
“Gracious your guidance onto this place,
Across the threshold, we must pace.
Yet to move along the path that’s true,
T’would safest be I follow you.”
The figure gave a nod and smile and gracefully stepped up to the door. After a moment's hesitation, they began searching about their person.
“Now where did I put that key? Oh yeh, in the bag right. That makes the most sense.”
From his side, the sidhe Lord took out a small leather bag no bigger than a modest belt pouch, made of some delicate pale skin and with a flick of his wrist he opened it to look inside.
“Ah darn! Its fallen deep.”
With that, the lord reached his hand into the bag, followed by his wrist, then his arm up to the elbow. Amairgen, watched in wonder to see this feat for the bag should not have held more than a hands depth. As the poet watched the Lord removed his hand and with it came a long and fantastic sword.
“Here, make yourself useful and hold this will you? Mind not to cut yourself now.”
So saying the guide dropped the long blade into Amairgen’s arms and returned to rummage about the bag. Next time he withdrew it, he held a long bone from what seemed to be a pig. This too was placed in the poet's arms, followed by a set of shears, a helmet, a belt made of fish scales, and then, at last, a silver branch from which hung some golden apples.
His guide recovered most of the items and stored them back inside the bag that should never have held any one of them let alone the lot.
“Alright, all set there now. You hold onto that branch and its best you stay close.”
With that, the doors opened and the descent beneath began.
Amairgen could not say how long they traveled for beneath the world all seemed as darkness. All that is except for the flowing path beneath their feet. It wasn’t an oppressive blackness, nor yet was it comfortable. It was like the darkness you find behind your eyes. This Amairgen knew as odd, given that his eyes were open, and strode along a leveled track behind a multi-hued lord of the Aes Sidhe.
Amairgen was trained in the Dreaming, in the recovery of story from the mind’s images and the forging of the truths from them. This though was nothing like that. This was something else, something other. Ahead the poet began to see the flickering of light, the dancing golden orange of a fire, spilling its warmth and radiance forward into this dark place. In not but a few steps they reached a large opening and without pause the guide stepped through.
Amairgen came to a stop on the step to take in the sight of the space beyond. Round and wide, the cave extended to either side all rough earth and rock. The roof of the space was lost in darkness and the smoke which hung high overhead. The smoke came from the large fire pit set in its centre, and two smaller cook fires to either side of it.
About the floor, the poet could see many seating mats and bedrolls but his eye was pulled across the place to the throne. It’s broad and wide shape, grown as if from the roots of some vast tree, dominated the area and sat empty like the rest of the cave. The poet turned to his guide only to find him no longer there. There had been no sound of his departure and Amairgen could see no other exits bar the one he stood in. Fear was not an uncommon sensation to the file for he had traveled much and seen many things and only a fool would not have been afraid by it all. The skill came in feeling the fear, but not letting it control your thoughts or actions. Amairgen stood on the threshold and closed his eyes. Allowing space for his breath alone, he acknowledged his fear but then allowed it to pass. He could feel the heat of the fire on his face, smell the wood smoke and hear a soft slow regular scraping sound.
Opening his eyes he turned his gaze towards the source of the sound and saw that the room was not empty after all. Beside a cooking fire sat a man. He had a rough dishevelled appearance to him, all dirt-stained clothing and earth and sweat soaked skin, dark hair hanging limp about his face. With one hand he was pouring milk into a cauldron whilst the other maintained a slow steady stir.
“You may as well come in and sit down.”
The figure spoke in a rich yet soft tone, his eyes never leaving the work at the cauldron, Amairgen saw him reach into a sack by him and then raise a fist full of grain with his hand and add it to the porridge all the while maintaining that slow steady rhythm. The poet moved forward into the space approaching the fire but did not take the offered seat.
“By the power of the word and the honour of the tribes, I have come as file of my people. I bid you summon your queen or King that I may entreat with them.”
The figure didn’t look up but kept that slow steady stir as the porridge began to reach its boil. The scent of the milk and grain made Amairgen very aware of the hunger that was upon him, but though his guide had given hospitality, he was no longer here. The Poet knew he needed to entreat with the ruler of this place, not only to resolve matters for his people but to secure his own safety.
“Would you not take a seat and have a bite to eat?”
The hunger upon the poet caused his stomach to bite at him and it’s bile to rise to his words.
“I am Amairgen keeper of words and knowledge,
By the authority of the tribes of Mil, rulers of the land’
and in the name of Eiru whose name is upon it
I demand that you summon your, rulers, to entreat with me.”
The figure remained sitting, gaze kept to the flames and the cauldron there in, slowly stirring.
Amairgen's bile rose to his words again and his gaze swept the room, empty but for the lowly cook. If he would not call them then Amairgen would do so himself. Gathering his breath, setting his mind, he summoned the words.
“I seek the Lords under Ireland,
Cursed be the fruitless sea,
Fruitless the ranked highland,
Rank the showy wood,
Shallow the river of cataracts,
Of cataracts in lakes and pools,
Of pools ‘neath hill and well,
Of a well of a people of assemblies,”
Amairgen was deep in the words now, their grip and flow on him such as could not be broken, still, he noted the other man move. With a big hand, he tipped the cauldron out of the fire so that it overturned, spilling the porridge unto the ground.
“Of assemblies come the kings of Tuatha,
Here in the hill of peoples,
Peoples of the Danú
Of lost lands, of ships burnt and broke;”
Once the words began there was no stopping the file’s calling for the file was a conduit for the power of words and stories started must be finished. Amarigen’s teachers had told him as such and it was as such that he believed. The strange man lifted a jug in his fist and began to pour the milk, over the top of the overturned cauldron.
“The King ship Eriu, eh….
Eriu lofty, em…..very green,
by incantation very cunning, emmm...The great cunning of…
Amairgen stopped! The words were lost to him to see the man pouring milk over an overturned cauldron.
“What are you doing? Are you stupid? Can’t you see I am performing here? There are important matters to be discussed and you sit there not helping and what's worse wasting good grain and milk when there is a hunger upon the people of this land. I demand an answer and that you summon the Lords of the Hill!”
For the first time, the other man looked up and Amairgen froze as his dark eyes fell upon him. His bluster caught in his throat and a cold ran along his skin as he realized, that in this moment, he had erred. The figure held him with his gaze, all the time pouring forth milk from the jug, its liquid running over and down the upturned cauldron and soaking into the earth beneath, soil which was already glutted with the porridge.
“This is You, Amairgen Glúingel, Ollam na hEireann. So caught up in your view that you are closed off from that which is all around you. How can you be filled when you aren’t even the right way up?”
Amairgen opened his mouth to speak but for the first time in his life, there were no words to him.
“Listen you don’t have to try so hard. Come over here and sit down. That way we can start trying to set this right.”
Without conscious awareness of his motion, the poet found himself seated beside the man, and it was only now that he realised how big he was. Broad shouldered and heavy with both muscle and weight the man’s massive hands were callused and worn as they reached out to right the cauldron.
“Right. Let’s start again, shall we? Now take a moment to consider your words and let us see how we do this time.”
The Big man set the cauldron back to the heat and returned to his stirring, adding in fist fulls of grain, and pouring forth milk from the jug. Amairgen looked about the space, trying to get his thoughts in order. The rule of the land was to the Sons of Mil by victory as had been foretold. He was empowered to place claims where needed as the declared Ollam of Ireland. He was always received in the highest of companies, entreating with the splendor of kings and chieftains and yet looking at this big steady figure beside him he began to realise that maybe he was speaking to the right person after all.
“Em, well. I was asked to come on behalf of my folk to talk to you about the fate of the land. There is no harvest of grain and the cattle run without milk. My people grow in hunger as the land grows to waste.”
Amairgen watched as the oats and milk began to thicken as the big man continued his slow and steady stirring.
“So why have you come here?”
The Son’s of Mil had taken Ireland as had been foretold and their dominion was assured by the agreement he had put in place. Those agreements meant that they could demand tribute of any other peoples of the land. Amairgen looked as the cauldron and its contents as they stirred slowly about to the inexorable rotation of the big man’s spoon.
“The Tribe of Mil have sent me to speak with you about the wasting of the land above and the loss of harvest. By our agreement the land above is ours and as such that which comes from it.”
The big man kept on stirring, his gaze on the fire and the contents of the cauldron.
“According to the agreement, anything beneath, belongs to my tribe. That which is above is nourished from beneath and that is where we live, in keeping with the words. We have made no wrong action.”
The poet felt his frustrations rise again. It was by his words of judgement that the first arrival of the Son’s of Mil had not resulted in slaughter. He it was who had stood and faced down the storm's wind. He had called the mists away for his folk to arrive again in the land, and it was by his agreement that it now carried Eiru’s name.
“You are being deliberately difficult and you know it Big Man. We are the rulers of this land and there can be no dispute of that. You and your people lost. That is the extent of it. We demand that you give tribute of milk and grain to support the needs of the people and prevent their starvation.”
With a heavy sigh, the big man moved, tipping the cauldron on its side this time so that half its contents spilled over onto the ground. He continued to pour and stir, but for all that was added, half was lost. Amairgen couldn't believe the waste of good food onto the soil, especially when so many of his people hungered.
“This is You Amairgen Glúingel, file of the Son’s of Mil. You strive to fulfillment yet you have not set yourself on stable ground, so you lose as much as you gain.”
The big man kept on pouring and stirring, losing half of everything to the soil beneath.
“Stop! please. Why do you keep doing this? I don’t understand.”
“You will never understand as long as you are out of balance, for no matter how hard you labour, no matter how much effort you apply. In this way, there can be no fulfillment, no true satisfaction.”
The man carried on pouring and stirring, and no matter how much he added, or how much he stirred, the cauldron remained unfilled. Amairgen was no fool. Words were his arena and with them, he was a master. Looking at his companion, he began to recognise the traits of one who knows the power of words. Yet this person seemed to be also one who can match words to actions in a way he had never considered before.
“The words of the agreement were set and abided by. Both tribes agreed to the words and to be bound by them. We did nothing wrong, we were just cleverer in their use and stuck to their keeping.”
The man of the hills and mounds, gave a slight shake of his head as he carried on pouring and stirring.
“I know well the words of the agreement, and my people are keeping to them in the clearest and most direct manner. We have done nothing wrong but to keep that which is ours by the words. That which is beneath, remains with us.”
Amairgen’s annoyance bubbled over.
“Well you are keeping to the words, but you are not keeping to the spirit of mutual agreement.”
The stirring stopped. The pouring stopped.
“Ah, now we are making steps.”
The big man turned that deep gaze of his upon the file and Amairgen felt the weight of them heavily upon him.
“We won, and the words were clear when they were presented. It’s not on us that your tribe lost.”
The dark-eyed gaze never flickered for a moment, holding Amairgen in place.
“Oh your words were masterfully done at that and as one who is now without three grandsons because of the conflicts, I more than anyone understand Loss. Yet you speak of the spirit of the agreement and that is a thing not bound in words. True your actions have been correct, but have they been Right?”
The impact of that word struck Amairgen’s mind like a hammer blow. Right. This was about more than ‘True’, ‘Correct’, or ‘of Fact’. The file began to understand as his mind began to stir about the word. Right, as in ‘morally good’, ‘justified’, or ‘acceptable’.
They had won the land. Overcome all of the Fomoraig and their demons, The Fir Bolg and their tenacity and the Tuatha De Dannan and their sorceries, but it was with his victory of words that drove these peoples into their half of the land, the half beneath, away from the light and the sky. Amairgen felt his pride over his victory sour. It had not been Right.
His gaze fell to his feet where they rested upon the rough spun mat, on the dark earth beneath the world. He suddenly felt the weight of the rock and soil above him, the close heat of the fire being the only thing to banish the cold all about, the still stifling air, with no gust of a breeze to move it. He sorely missed the feel of the wind, the blue of the skies and the spray of the waves all about.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t consider what it was I should do. I was focused only on what I could do. I have done a great harm on you and your people.”
The words hung in the still smoke scented air of the cave, and all about was silence. Amairgen knew that the dark eyes were still upon him, but he could not raise his head for the weight that sat heavy upon his heart. There was a sudden thud which brought the poet's head up rapidly, to see the cauldron once again set right on its feet, in the fire.
“Well now, Amairgen Glúingel, man of Ireland, it looks like we have found some stable ground after all. What’s done is done, but with the right attitudes maybe we can find a better tomorrow for all of us eh?”
The big man gave Amairgen a friendly nudge with a large elbow as a warm reassuring smile appeared on his face.
“Now pass me that jug and let me show you how to be a Good Neighbour.”
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