The Third String.
Tales from a Dagda Bard
The Third String.
Tales from a Dagda Bard
It stood a good four foot tall at the rounded hump of its shoulder, not counting the ruff of bristles which were more mo-hawk than mane. The rest of its hide was covered in a course matted hair, dark brown and rough to the touch. For those willing to get close enough to touch it that is. The array of prominent tusks protruding from its snout did a lot to discourage close proximity. These ivory coloured teeth erupted in two rows from both sides of its slavering mouth and gleamed with threat whenever the beast shook its head. It moved about pawing at the ground with its fore hoofs and gouging furrows with its tusks, all the while its dark piggy eyes watched intently for its prey. The scents inhaled by its broad flat nose told it where best to scrape and rake the soil under its feet. A beast of vast size and power, to look at it you might think it some fluke of natural order, some oddity for its height and girth, that was until it’s grating squawking squeal brought forth its kin. The boar gathered, each as monstrously massive as the last.
Into their midst she came. Small and slight of frame hardly more than a foot taller than the beasts. She moved without hesitation, her bare feet stepping lightly over the torn earth, it’s muck and dust gathering all around the hem of her fine red robes. Her hair was braided back from her angular face keeping it clear of her arms. The beasts hunched shoulder to shoulder, crowding close as their agitation at her presence began to mount. Hooves scrapped the ground and heads shook back and forward, displaying the aggressive threat of those tusks. She stopped before them holding her ground, still and calm as their agitation rose. The beasts began to jostle one another where they stood no more than a long leap from the woman. She waited patiently. Soon the boar were all voicing their agitation as one, shuffling and jostling each other. As the whining squawking reached a near fever pitch, and the beasts begin to edge closer she finally spoke.
“Awh, such a lovely song for me today my darlings.”
Her tone was warm and affectionate pitched as one would to coo at a toddler as yet without comprehension of words. Her hands dipped into her robes and came out holding a collection of mushrooms. The beasts excitement became too much for them and they broke and scrambled all about the cave that was their pen. Prancing and leaping, hopping and trotting. The woman moved amongst them caressing each as she came close and giving them one or two of the fungi to chew and chomp over. All the while she smiled and crooned to them as a mother would to her children. When at last she had seen to each of them she stood. A look of confusion upon her face. She turned about the cave slowly, her eyes taking in every detail as she counted, unconsciously shooing away one of the beasts which was paying too much attention to her pockets and the scents within.
“Now where do you suppose she has gotten to. I dare say none of the rest of you were missing without my knowledge where you?”
Her gaze hardened as she moved it across each boar and though it would be hard for such beasts to show any facial expression, their body language when confronted by her stare was all she needed.
“Alright. Which of you left? No, don’t give me any of your cutsie expressions now. This bit is serious. Where is she and which of you went with her. Come on. I’m waiting.”
The boar were quelled by her tone and gathered together again, this time keeping as still and quiet as each could when faced with the small red woman. She stood, hands on hips, braids bouncing gently as her foot tapped upon the rough ridged earth of the cave.
“You know I don’t like to be kept waiting. This is a serious matter. She could be lost or hurt and the lot of you are just standing there giving me the innocent eyes. I can stand here as long as it takes. If no one of you steps forward then it’s all of you that will bear the punishment.”
The tension built as the swine cowered before the growing anger of the small red woman. That was until a squealing cry from the tunnel’s entrance set her in motion. She spun about on the balls of her feet to face the opening as the squealing continued, coming closer from out of the darkness, accompanied by the sounds of straining and grunting. Her eyes narrowed as she focused her will on the opening feet slipping into a braced posture, hand disappearing into her robes to reach for her knives. As the discordant ruckus reached its apex, a large awkward shape shambled out of the dark and into the cave. The missing boar was as bulky and course as the rest of its kin and the cause for it’s foul tempered squeals became readily apparent as it moved into the room, four legs off the ground thrashing wildly in the air. A pair of big muscled forearms stretched around it’s barrel like chest, holding it firmly despite its wriggling and thrashing. There was not much more to see as the massive bulk of the boar obscured whomever was behind carrying it. The woman settled back to her ease and watch the struggling shuffling gait bring the beast closer. Eventually it came to a stop and with a groan, audible despite the continued squeals, the boar was lowered to its feet. As soon as the grip released the creature dropped to the ground rolling and writhing in the earth of its home pen, showering the person who had carried it in a cloud of dust and dirt.
“Thanks, you ungrateful beast.”
The words rolled out heavy with exhaustion and laced with pain.
The Dagda stood in the cave, the freshly kicked up dirt sticking to his sweat sheened skin. Great red patches showed on his forearms, chest and shoulders where the skin have been rubbed and scuffed so much as to draw blood. His breath heaved in and out of his lungs in short sharp gasps, the tightness around his eyes showing the pain he was in. Where his skin was not rubbed red it was beginning to show the bluish discolouration of bruising.
“Are you alright my dearest darling?”
The woman’s words carried a warmth of concern as she moved forwards.
“Ah, sure I have had worse, I guess. I’m glad of your concern though.”
“Whisht you and get out of my way.”
With that the Morrigan roughly pushed passed him to kneel in the dirt beside the rolling and wriggling boar. Placing her hands upon it she started crooning softly until its movements ceased. The boar eased to her presence and began to purr happily as she ran her fingers through its hair.
“Was the big nasty man rough with you my little sweetling? Hmm? Does mommy need to have words with the big oaf for his meanness?”
The Morrigan’s fingernails moved about the boar’s rugged hide, scritching and scratching at its tough hair, as her eyes moved across it checking for any harm the beast may have incurred. With a satisfied nod to herself she produced another of the mushrooms, feeding it to the happily purring sounder.
“Well I can see that you’re sorted now and I guess it might be best I move along.”
The Morrigan spun to stand as the Dagda began to turn away.
“Not one step more until I have had an explanation out of you, Fer Broumide!”
The Dagda turned back, face colouring with embarrassment at the name.
“Hey now, that’s uncalled for. It was a bad pint is all. Nothing to bring up like this.”
The Morrigan raised her hands to her hips and set her foot tapping in the ragged dirt again. The Dagda’s eyes moved from her scuffy feet up to the set of her shoulders and stern storm grey gaze of her eyes. The moment began to stretch until finally he spoke.
“Alright. So I was up and about above, doing the work as you know, when I came across quite a sight. The land was all torn and rooted. Great sods of topsoil torn up all over. Now you know I’m not the type to leave a land like that but sure I had to find the cause first.”
The Dagda stopped with a wince and moved one of his tough hands up to place against his ribs.
“Could we maybe take this someplace else? I’m in quite a bit of pain and have a thirst upon me.”
The Morrigan remained unmoved, her gaze holding him steady. The Dagda gave a little cough and carried on his tale.
“So there I was tracking this trail of destruction when I started to here stories. You know how folk like to talk to me after all. Sure it’s not long before someone hits on a truth which caused my ears to prick up. Boar so they claimed. Running amok all over. More than anyone could count. Rooting and rucking up the land. Big monstrous horrible slobbering mean spirited aggressive beasts…”
The Morrigan’s brow came down over her gaze as her anger began to stir her tresses.
“That’s what I heard them folk above saying is all. It’s not like they have much sense these days, am I right?”
The Dagda’s voice carried a forced levity but this did little to change the Morrigan’s demeanour.
“Yeh, well I’m hearing these stories and I’m thinking to myself, ‘nah, couldn’t be her pets. Sure they are well cared for and kept safe away….”
His gaze fell to the beast still lying on ground beside the woman. Its rough tangle of hair now covered in the muck and rock dust, drool streaming from its snout as it continued to chomp on the fungi the Morrigan had fed it.
“...and your pets are all lovely wee creatures. Nothing like what those stories were saying.”
The Dagda looked back up and put on his most endearing smile. The Morrigan remained unmoved, her gaze holding him steady.
“Well, so I had to go an see for myself you know? Sure enough I come across a gathering of connaught folk and they’re all staring into these fields right, a whole bunch of them arguing over numbers see. I make my way in amongst them, all quiet like and nondescript and sure I’m glad I did for wasn’t it not Maeve herself there overseeing this count.”
The Dagda winced again, shifting his weight so as to favour his right leg.
“Listen, we couldn’t go take a seat some place. I have been on my feet for ages now.”
The Morrigan remained unmoved, her gaze holding him steady. The Dagda took a shallow breath and continued.
“Right. So Maeve is there trying to count these boar that are all about the field and it’s only when I get close that I see that the stories were wrong and It was not monstrous demonic boar, but instead its your own sweet bunch of sounders, playing about the place. Of course I wouldn’t leave them out there where anything might happen to them, so I got straight to work bringing them away as quietly as I could and getting them back home here safe and sound. Sure I was doing you favour after all, returning them with no harm done to a one of them at all, at all. That’s the end of the story so it is. Now if you don’t mind I think it’s best I be off.”
As the Dagda had been speaking the bruises upon his skin had discoloured further deepening as the blood collected. His left eye had begun to swell forcing him to squint and his breathing had grown steadily shallower, interspersed with a wince ever so often. The battered, bruised, bleeding and obviously in a lot of pain. Still he forced a smile onto his broad features.
The Morrigan moved. The small red woman never took her eyes from the Dagda. All she did was raise her eyebrow. All noise and movement within the cave ceased. Throughout the space all eyes had moved to the big man.
The Dagda’s voice was a little strained to be so under the gaze of not just the small woman, but also her collection of boar. As he stood holding his broken ribs, favouring his leg, feeling the blood gather in his bruises and slowly losing sight to the swelling of his eye, he knew he could not endure anymore of this.
“Alright alright. I came here to ‘borrow’ one of them for breeding. I never thought they would be such a handful. They are always so docile and compliant around you that I figured It would be an easy job done before you would notice. I’m sorry.”
The Morrigan smiled and blinked for the first time since the conversation began. About the cave the boar went back to their play, scuffing, scraping and rooting at the ground. Her voice was part scorn part mirth when it carried into the cave.
“So what you saying is that you broke my bounds without permission, and my wee darlings gave you the thrashing you rightfully deserved. I would say that the matter of balance can be considered resolved.”
The Dagda let out a wince laiden sigh, but ceased as the Morrigan’s hand came up stop him.
“That is, once you clear up the mess you made of the other land.”
The Dagda groaned deeply, his whole form slumping as the pain exhaustion hung upon him.
“That could take 7 years!”
“Well you had best get started then, and don’t think of slacking off cause I will be watching. Now go on and get, your bleeding on my cave floor.”
The Morrigan shook her hands to shoo the Dagda out of the cave as she returned to doting on her muicíns.
“Oh, and leave that big area near my cave alone. I want you to have something to remember this by.”
The Dagda turned and began his wincing shuffling exit.
If you enjoy this along with my other work and would consider supporting me and accessing further content maybe pop over to the Patreon.com/Dagda
An Scéalaí Beag