The Third String.
Tales from a Dagda Bard
The Third String.
Tales from a Dagda Bard
Midir looked down at the tear filled eyes of the youth in front of him.
Ten years old and growing up fast the kid was a joyful addition to the household. His keen mind and gentle nature showing more of his parents than he was yet to realise. The chieftain sat in his hall considering a fidchell board with much intensity when the wailing voice and trundling step had announced the child's arrival. He had hoped the matter would resolve itself in a manner that would not disturb him, but that was not to be the case. The Mac Oc had come straight to him, wet faced and gasping for the extent to which the emotion had overcome him.
"What is this?" said Midir.
It took a few patient moments for the child to catch his breath before his words came, all in a rush unburdening his woes in a flood.
“Triath said mean and hurtful things to me. We were playing and he was being too proud so I told him not to talk so big in front of me cause he is only the son of a serf.”
Midir allowed himself a small frown at this. Triath, son of Febal of the Fir Bolg, was one of the Mac Oc’s close friends in the troupe of fosterlings housed here. Following the logic of the conversation Midir could predict the course this talk was taking.
The child took another shuddering breath and continued.
“Then he...he...said that I don’t have a mother or a father. I called him a liar cause everyone knows your my father. Then all of the others started to laugh at me.”
Midir let out a slow breath then reached forward to lift the child up into his lap folding him into a gentle embrace. It was an easy thing to do because his father had often done the same for him. He held the Mac Oc to him until the tears ceased and the breath steadied. When the storm of emotion had passed he sat back to meet the boys face. A face whose features carried much of the same traits as his own. It was easy to see the kinship upon them both, but now was the time for truths to be told.
“Oengus, I need you to listen to me now and mind close to the words I have to share with you.”
The youth looked up to meet Midir’s eyes, the use of his birth name always giving him pause for the seriousness of the words to follow.
“I am not your father.”
The shock caused the boys features to fall and a paleness to steal the warmth from his face. Midir continued before the boy could speak.
“You are not my son, but you do have a mother and a father. It is by your father that we share kinship for he is also my father. This is why we look alike. Our fathers features could not be denied upon either of us. You are my half-brother.”
Midir gave the lad a moment to process the truth he had placed upon him, all the while holding him close and warm in his arms. It wasn’t long before a slight frown crept onto young face. Midir knew how smart the Mac Oc was and often enjoyed watching the workings of his mind show upon him.
“Then, if you’re not my dad, who is? Why am I raised here with you and not with him? What of my mother? Who is she? Where did I come from? Did they not want me?”
Midir found a small smile creep onto his features. He’d had a long time to prepare for this conversation and knew exactly the next moves to make. He allowed a firmness into his tone.
“Oengus Mac Oc, your questions will be answered but some of that story is not mine to tell. What I can say is that you are well loved and wanted more than you could know. Unfortunately the lives of some adults can be complex as you will learn in time.”
The Mac Oc’s frown deepened but Midir could see that his words had reached the lad. His next move had to come quick upon the last to forestall further questions he could not, or would not, answer.
“Now less of your tears. Go wash your face and pack a bag. I think it’s time we went to visit our father.”
Like a cloud passing to reveal the sun the tears vanished and a look of wonder and joy filled the youth’s face. He leapt up and rushed off across the hall. Midir waited until he was almost to the door before he called out to him.
“Oengus, I love you.”
The boy came to a halt in the doorway and turned to look back. Midir could see the words register with the Mac Oc and how he was shifting his understanding of their relationship.
“I love you too, brother.”
With that the boy was gone and Midir returned his gaze to the fidchell board. There were a number of powerful pieces at play here and he would need to be careful of his next move.
It hadn’t taken them long to make the trip. Midir held a fine collection of horses and chariots and with the boy holding tight behind him they had made great time to the hill at the heart of the island. Midir worked the pair well and with great speed to forestall any possible conversation on the road. He need not have worried. The rush of the air across their faces had always been a joy to the Mac Oc. His ears brought the sound of laughter to him whenever the gusts allowed. Midir had to keep checking with snatched glances to be sure the boy still held to the frame. On more than one occasion in the past the lad had spread his arms out wide to ‘catch the winds as a bird might’. Of course these invariably ended with the a face full of dirt and a few scrapes but the lad never let up his good humour whenever there was a breeze about him.
As the chariot came up the rise, Midir slowed them to an easy walk. Snatching another glance at the Mac Oc he saw his paying close attention to the land around them his eyes taking in every detail. Always thinking this one, thought Midir with a smile on his face. A gift and a curse in its own way, but with youthful innocence it can be more the former and less the latter.
“Now Oengus, we are here and it’s only fair that I give you some insight before we step too much further. Our father is a very important man. Well he has always been, but more so now as the rule of the land itself has come upon him.”
Midir gave this truth its moment to sit with the boy and was pleased to see no outburst of questions. He really was growing up fast.
“He holds the kingship of Eire and though many lands are his, here is his home at its heart, where all the island stretches equally far on every side, south and north, to east and west.”
As they came up a rise in the land they saw the Rath. It was a wide and squat building with earth banks about ir edge. There was no palisade about the boundary and an easy wide track open to the dwellings within. As Midir rolled the chariot to a halt, the lowing of a cow brought their attention around. The Mac Oc leapt down and ran over to a nearby pen to greet the black- maned heifer.
“Hey, I know this cow. It’s the one that ditch digger from Tara got for his work. Does he work here for our father?”
Midir couldn’t help his smile as he looked at the lad, rubbing and petting the heifer. Yes this was a day for truths, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t a day for surprises.
“Yes, that man is here and he does work very hard. You might say he has the hardest job in all the land.”
The Mac Oc glanced over, hearing something in his brothers tone but not quite able to place its meaning. Midir’s face revealed nothing as he waved the lad over towards the door. Placing a hand on the boy's shoulder they stepped through into the hall. The wide space was filled with various gatherings of people settled in around the room. There was a large fire pit in the centre with bright flames adding a pleasant warmth. Around the side of the pit were a number of cook stations, and the smell of baking bread and roasting pork wafted about the room. Midir looked about for his father but couldn't see him in the throng. Noticing Oengus’ eye’s locked on the rotating roast gave him an easy way to resolve this.
“Mac Oc, I need to go find our father. Why don’t you head over to the roast and get a bite to eat. I will find you there as soon as I can.”
The youth looked up at his brother a flash of concern on his features as he glanced around the room.
“There are a lot of strangers here. I would be afraid to be left alone.”
Midir knelt down next to his little brother placing both hands on his shoulders to reassure him.
“Fear not Oengus. This is the house of our father. There is no safer place on the land for those who come seeking hospitality.”
Midir knew the serious tone did much to ease the boy’s fear, but he needed one move more to lighten his humour.
“Now go get some food and stay where I can find you again. Trust me, I won’t be long. Our father is not the smallest of men after all, how hard could it be to find a big man in all of this eh?”
The Mac Oc smilled and gave a nod of understanding before moving off towards the fire. It wasn’t too hard for him to move through the space. For all that there were a lot of folk present, each had a comfortable area to seat themselves with ample room to move about. The boy felt himself glancing at the walls, wondering if he had mistook the size of the hall from outside. Surely all this room couldn’t be inside the squat building they had entered. It was in his distraction that he bumped into a broad back of a man sitting by the fire, turning the roast.
“Hey now! Watch where you’re walking.”
The voice was deep and resonant but there was no anger to it as Oengus stepped back in surprise.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it. I was just distracted.”
As the lad looked at the person he had jostled he realised that he recognised him.
“Hey, you’re the ditch digger from Tara. The one who owns the cow outside.”
The Mac Oc saw a brief sadness pass across the mans face but it was quickly replaced with a warm smile.
“Ah, if it isn’t young Oengus. My you’ve taken a stretch since the last time I saw you. Here, all that growing has got to make you hungry. Grab a seat here lad and let me cut you a slice of this pork.”
The Mac Oc was delighted to find someone he knew here and as his tummy gave a rumble he realised he was hungry. He took a seat next to the big man and watched as he carved him a slice of the meat from the roast.
“So what has you here today my young lad? Have you more advice for an old man?”
The pleasant earthy tone warmed the youth as the man carried on carving, reminding him of the last time they met and how he had helped the man with his problem. That had been a few years ago now. The Mac Oc took the offered plate and blew out his breath on the meat to cool it.
“Oh no. I’m here to meet my father.”
The boy didn’t see the look the big man gave him as he took up the meat and tore into it with his teeth.
“Ah, so your brother has shared a truth with you Oengus?”
The warmth never left the tone but there was something extra this time that made the lad look up. He saw the attention of the man was directed fully upon him, the roasting spit forgotten for the moment.
“Yes. My brother has told me that I am the son of the king. He is here too. Looking to find him so that he may acknowledge me.”
The dark eyes of the man held the youth with a gentle intensity.
“Oh? And what is it you hope will happen here Oengus?”
The youth felt that prickle of sensation that he sometimes got around important conversations and he set the plate aside to consider his reply.
“I wish for my father to know me. I wish for knowledge of my mother. I wish to be recognised for the complete truth and gain understanding from it.”
The dark eyed gaze of the man never wavered from the clear blue of the youth.
“Do you think this will change who you are Oengus?”
The Mac Oc took a minute to think on this, his face taking on a slight frown of concentration. When he did respond, his words were careful and considered.
“No, and yes. I am me and can’t be anyone else, but in the knowing of my parents I can gain understanding to help me be the best me I can. Does that make sense?”
The lad looked up to see a warm wide smile stretching the man’s face.
“It makes perfect sense, Oengus.”
The boy found himself smiling warmly back as this gentle giant.
“People call me Mac Oc now by the way.”
The man smiled affectionately at the young lad.
“That’s what your mam wanted. She said ‘Young is the son who was begotten at the break of day and born betwixt it and evening’."
Oengus looked up to hear this new information about himself.
“You know who my mother is?”
“That I do Oengus. I know her well indeed.”
The Dagda’s smile never let up an inch as he saw Midir approach from across the hall.
“I also know your father and know that he is very proud of you. It was he who named you Oengus and he who will only ever refer to you my that name. Oengus.”
The Mac Oc noticed Midir approaching and he wasn’t sure if it was the look on his face or something in the man’s voice, but his thoughts came into clear focus to see the similarity in the features the three of them shared. As the light of realisation dawned he looked anew at the man beside him.
“Welcome home son.”