The Third String.
Tales from a Dagda Bard
The Third String.
Tales from a Dagda Bard
The hall rang with their revels. A frantic manic clashing of noise and energy.
The fires were stacked high, filling the centre of the space with flickering flames. Food and drink were there in abundance and consumed with avarice intent. Two groups of bards were set at either end of the hall their performances setting a discordant drone as the collections of lordling placed demand after demand on them to change the tone to their own personal tastes. Everywhere there were weapons and armour, carelessly discarded as the warhost had returned from their raid, taking their spoils to wherever they might enjoy them best.
Grandil looked about the hall, disgust plain upon his face. His people celebrated their raid as if it were the greatest of victories, and not just a spiteful retaliation of the defeated. Reports had come every day of the gathered battles though no one here seemed to care for the state of the conflict. By Balor’s will they had formed an army and come for vengeance and spoils. None would go against the ‘bale eye’ for he was the greatest of their kings.
He felt his grimace become a sneer at the thought. 'Was'. It seemed to Grandil that there was a lot of past tense creeping into their story. Balor ‘was’ their greatest king. They ‘had’ ruled unchallenged across the lands and sea.
Balor now lay dead, his brain bashed out the back of his head by some youth made king by these Tuatha dé Danann. Some now said that the fair headed champion must be his grandson and that some prophecy had set Balor’s doom against him. Grandil didn't care for the words of the soothsayers and their mysticism. No magic controlled his fate. Balor had gotten weak, grown slow on his own self importance. That’s why he had died.
Bres and Elotha had arrived with the ragged remnants of the battle host. The stink of defeat upon them all.
He stood and strode away from the nearest bards. Some weeping emotional fool had gotten them to play a dirge and he would no more mourn the fall of the weak than he would hesitate to kill them himself.
Stepping over towards the mead barrels he shoved anyone in front of him out of the way. No one challenged him for all could see the scars upon his bare muscled arms and the hate clear upon his face. I fight broke out between those he had pushed aside, trying to re-establish their place of worth in the wake of his passage. Like dogs fighting over scraps. He hated them.
They had taken up residence here divesting the previous owner of their property and then their life as soon as they had arrived on this wet island. Whilst Balor had taken the bulk of the forces to conflict, they had ‘secured their supply line’ which all knew was a poor excuse to indulge in slaughter and pillage. They had reaped quite a bounty from the area around them piling the wealth up in this hall and never once endangering themselves. Every night they had feasted upon their spoils, yet tonight’s excess rang false to any with the awareness to see. These were desperate attempts to distract from their failure. Frenetic indulgence fueled delusion so that not one person would consider the true extent of their loss.
Filling his mug he turned about and stopped. There were no guards on the door to the hall, and what was worse, the door swung open. Grandil’s warrior instinct had always served him well and now it told him that they were no longer secure. He stood still and allowed his mind to clear of the distractions about him. As his emotions began to stir he pressed down upon them with his anger. There was no place for fear, there was no place for sadness, as there was no place for joy in him. There was only the anger and the will to use it, to lash out hurt and harm. All he needed was a worthwhile target. He swept his gaze about the room, searching.
Drunken laggardly fools stumbled to and fro showing their inability to handle their cups. Talkers squabbled here and there, using their words instead of their weapons. He would normally target them for their weakness but now with a true foe nearby they were safe from him. The heat of the fires coupled with the press of bodies in the hall made the place swelter and stink and it was this that finally aided him find his prey.
They moved about the edge of the hall, trying to keep themselves out of the light and away from others. In this oppressive heat inside the hall, they still had their heavy wool wrap up and about their head. Grandil smiled to himself and set off across the space between them, pushing fools out his path. It wasn’t long before he moved in behind them. They were tall and lithely built, moving with an exaggerated step to affect a casual air. Stepping up behind the figure Grandil raised his arm to grab the cloak from their head when suddenly a large shape appeared to his side. A strong hand wrapped about his wrist, twisting the arm behind his back whilst a second clamped itself over his mouth, stemming any cry he may have tried to make. The power in the grip on him was crushing, pain spiking in his shoulder as his arm bent near to breaking. Still he readied himself to strain against it. That was until the blade appeared in front of his eye. He looked into the face of a slim fair warrior, his eyes the blue of ocean glaciers and just as warm.
“Now that wasn’t very polite at all was it friend? Have you no hospitality to this hall? Or should we start the repayment of your actions right here and now with the removal of those hate filled eyes of yours? Or that busted nose? I could do it and leave you mostly alive you know? Then everyone one see the horror of your soul revealed in the ruins of your face.”
Grandil tensed as the blade inched closer and suddenly all that fear he had held back came spilling up and out of him. For the first time in his life, the warrior soiled himself.
“Leave off Lugh. That is not how He wants it played and you know it.”
The voice was melodic but with a deeper sonorous tone. Given the strength of the grip upon him, unyielding in its pressure Grandil knew he was out matched. Obviously the person holding him felt his surrender, but still there was no give in that hold.
“That’s right lad, there is no point fighting this. The show is about to begin and you may become the better for it should you choose to pay attention and learn something from today. Ah here comes my brother now.”
Grandil was pulled back to the side of the room and turned towards the door. Those same doors had flung wide, rattling back upon their hinges as a blast of cold air gusted into the room, shivering the flames in the pits and kicking sparks dancing in the air. All motion seemed to freeze in the hall as a thunderous silence fell.
There was someone in the doorway. The lights of the fires revealed a wide heavy set man. The hood of his travel cloak was thrown back to reveal broad round features surrounded by a mop of russet hair and beard. He stood there impassively, arms at his sides, his face revealing nothing of the thoughts running through his mind. The moment began to draw on and Grandil noted the confusion beginning to replace the shock on his people’s faces. Of course it was one of the idiots in his cups who spoke first.
“Here, wha’s all this then? Who are you to be comin in a ‘ere an disturbin us ‘hard workin’ folk.”
The drunk, thinking himself funny, nudged a compatriot to get the expected reaction. A number of chuckles skittered their way about the room as nerves got the better of some.
The big man didn’t move, nor his expression change.
“Hold your whist you idiot! It’s him, their druid. The one they call The Dagda.”
The talker spoke, claiming recognition of the new arrival. He looked back and forth seeing some nod in agreement and others shake their heads. His declaration had set a number of surprised gasps loose amongst the gathering but these too faded.
The big man didn’t move, nor did his expression change.
All eyes in the hall moved to Bres where he sat beside his father, watching for the king’s reaction. Grandil could see clearly the war of emotions at play upon the fallen rulers face. Predictably it was anger that won out.
“You have always been a prodigious fool, ditch digger. I would have expected Nuada to come with his speeches, or Lugh with his threats. Yet here you stand, and without even your famed weapon to empower you. I have a host of warriors here and more weapons than each can carry.”
Bres’ words were heavy with contempt and aggression. At his gestures, the tuatha within the hall gathered their weapons to hand.
The big man didn’t move, nor did his expression change.
“Well? Have you no words for us before you fall? Maybe someone can loan you a weapon so that you don’t die empty handed and in shame.”
Grandil heard these words and knew that they were aimed towards the Dagda’s pride, for who would wish to face their end without some fight to deny its arrival. Bres ‘the beautiful’ leered from his seat looking face contorted by the hate in him. Grandil knew this emotion well. He looked to the new comer to see how it affected him.
The big man didn’t move, nor did his expression change.
It was this more than anything that gave Grandil pause. How could anyone face so many vicious hate filled words and not be stirred to reaction. How can someone stay calm when standing as a target of people who meant him harm. The silence hung heavy in the space as the moment dragged on and then the Big man did react but in a manner no one expected.
The Dagda sighed in regret and slowly shook his head. When the words came they were heavy with disappointment.
“You still don’t get it do you Bres. You allow your emotions to master your reason and act in poor judgment because of it. I am not here for you, I have come for that which you had no right to claim.”
The druid’s voice filled the silence, his words direct and delivered with of all things, compassion. Alas they feel not into accepting ears, but ones deafened to their own import.
“Ireland is mine! I was chosen! I am King! You have no place here to tell me different.”
Bres came to his feet, beautiful face turned red, voice cracking with his rage. The Dagda again slowly shook his head.
“Ireland is her own, and your Right to rule was proved false by your own deed, but once again you miss the truth for the sake of your own ego. I am not here for Ireland’s sake.”
Grandil stood still, held in place now more by the scene unfolding, than the strong hands upon him. The Dagda began to take slow steps forward as his expression shifted. For the first time an emotion crept into his countenance. That emotion was anger.
“You brought hardship and levy against our people. You summoned these raiders to this land. Raiders who violated my home, betrayed hospitality, and stole that which rightly belongs to me. I am not here for you Bres, once king of Ireland, I am here for what is mine.”
As the the Dagda slowly stepped forward, those nearest began to step back. Bres, seeing them giving ground, berated them with his words.
“Cowards! You would fall back in the face of one enemy? One his comes here and defies me? One who is unarmed? Attack!”
Grandil was a warrior and had killed many in battle, but even he would not strike against an unarmed opponent. There was no honour is it. Unfortunately for the Dagda, there were many without honour in the fomorian warband. With a bellow of rage a nine charged the lone figure where he stood in the entrance. What came next happened quicker than the warrior's eye could follow. The Dagda raised his hand, reaching into the room and in a flash the nine that had moved against him lay dead at his feet.
In the Dagdas hand there now rested a harp. Grandil had seen it thrown with the rest of the spoils. It was a big sturdy thing made of oak, polished smooth so that the carvings upon its frame looked almost like paint. It had not given any of the bard there a single note for its strings would not move to their touch. Now, seeing it in the Dagda’s hand the instrument seemed almost delicate. The Dagda’s words when they came were loud and delivered with the authority of a bard commanding the attention of an audience.
“Come Daurdabla! Come Coir-cethar-chuir! Come summer, Come winter! Mouths of harps and bags and pipes!”
So saying he drew the harp in close and set his thick fingers to the strings.
Notes soft and melodic began to the fill the hall. The music began to combine from those notes, a junction of harmony and peace as the sound began to soar. Grandil felt them as an almost physical thing, working their way into him. The notes bounced from one to another across the higher ranges and back down in a rapid staccato that seemed to speak to his body more than his mind. Grandil watched as he saw its effect on others. First feet began to tap in time to the tune, then heads to nod and arms sway. Without knowing why the urge to dance came upon him and were it not for the hands holding him steady he to would be reeling about with his comrades. The music seemed to take them with its speed and its tone and the warrior watched as the fomorian host, set for harm but a few moments ago, were now all a joy, lost in the dance. Those who were not on the floor found the sight a joy to watch and laughter rang out merging with the sound of the song. The music kept up its pace and power until almost all were coated in sweat and hoarse from the calling out in their exultation. Some part of Grandil was aware of what was happening to him. That place deep inside where he pushed his emotions had overflowed. The music calling to his joyful memories and setting them loose within him. His mother’s smile. Playing with his dog. His first chariot ride. Every joyful moment he had experienced resonated to the dance of those notes. Just as he began to wonder how long the song could last, it began to change.
“Here it comes. Remember what he said Lugh. Mind your emotions”
“I hear you Oghma and well I remember the last time he played this way.”
The exchange occurred in a gap as the tones began to shift. The music continued but its pace had slowed, notes left to hang longer and where there had been the rightness of harmony, now there was the twang of discord. The skill remained and as the folk in the hall slowed to a stop Grandil could see their faces and the loss he felt for the ending of the joyful tune. The music did not stop though as again the warrior felt the long slowly melody pull upon his memory. The loss of the joy resonated with the memories of loss in him as his emotions carried on flowing up and out. The day his mother departed this world. The loss of his dearest friend. The look of fear on the faces of those he had killed. He felt his breath catch as sobs began to wrack his body. His knees became weak and those strong hands that had bound him, now cradled him as sadness came heavy upon him. The song continued, gentle but unrelenting. There was no escape from the sadness because it was within him.
His eyes lost to tears, all he could hear were the wailing woes of those around him. He heard their pain and sadness echoing his own feelings. Their loss and hurt, the same as his. Their tears coming from the same place of sadness and pain as his. He was connected to them in sadness as he had been in joy. As his heart ached within his chest for the sadness upon him, he noticed that the music had changed once again.
Softly and slowly the discord faded and harmony returned. The notes flowed about the room and Grandil began to feel at ease. His memories began to fade back as the tone brought him again into the here and now. The melody wrapped about his senses with a warming ease and his eyes begin to feel heavy. With the tears passed he saw the Dagda standing where he had been at the start of his performance. The folk were all about the hall, watching fixedly to his craft. As the warrior watched he saw his people begin to slide into slumber, lulled by the resonance of the harp strings. Without knowing how he realised he was on the ground with a warm wool cloak over him. Some part of his mind remembered it as the someone else's cloak, but that didn't seem important now. He was so tired. His emotions had over run his sense for the first time in his life and it had drained him more than any day’s battle ever had. He felt the yawn well up and would not hold it back. The sounds of his people snoring came from all about and he longed to join them in sleep. As his heavy lids began to close he looked again to the Dagda where he performed. Was it sleeps mist in his eyes or were there tears on the big man’s face?
The Dagda stopped his playing and allowed the strings to come to their own rest, the last notes fading into the hall as the host slept all about him. He turned slowly as his companions approached. Oghma stifled a yawn as they came up beside him, whilst Lugh’s eyes still streamed with tears. He looked at the Dagda and took a deep shuddering breath.
“I seem to still be under you spell. When will it pass?”
The Dagda looked at his king, compassion filling his own tear streaked features.
“Those tears are yours Lugh and nought to do with me. You have done something that none can walk from lightly and though your actions were Right, you must still accept their consequences. You have lost kin, and by your hand was the deed done.”
Lugh’s head fell, his golden hair coming forward to hang over his face. The Dagda stepped slowly forward and encircled the youth with his arms, embracing him gently against his chest.
"What tears may fall, Let them be cleansing and refreshing. For tears are a sign of greatness, as do not even the greatest of emotions, indeed make us great. You've got to feel your feelings."
Turning about the trio left together. They moved off towards home leaving the hall filled with snores and as the fomorians slept, the king wept.
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An Scéalaí Beag