The Third String.
Tales from a Dagda Bard
The Third String.
Tales from a Dagda Bard
The Champion could not hold his place for his anger. Fine boots, normally kept so clean were scuffed and muddy from his treading back and forth.
Dagda sat on the ground before his home, a huge butter churn in between his thick thighs, big hands wrapped around the broad strapped handle of a massive length of wood as he raised and lowered it, driving its shaft into the pale time and again with slow measured strokes.
"You'll wear a hole in those fancy shoes of yours"
Lugh spun on him, levelling that spear of his to point at the other chieftain.
"You could stand to show some more concern. My enemies are moving against us."
Dagda released a slow breath, making allowances for his responsibility to his own emotions before replying, big arms keeping a steady rhythm.
"Lugh, there is naught you can do about it right this moment, and not much rest will there be in the moments to come. All is prepared as it should be and no pacing will hasten the resolution of the day."
Whether it was his softened tone or the casual use of the name, Dagda did not know, but the Champions frustration flashed to quick anger.
"Don't tell me what to do! I am in charge here and will not be coddled by the likes of you."
Dagda's face formed a frown as his own anger began to rise, but this was not the space for emotional responses despite the outburst. Once again the Dagda allowed space for his own feelings to rise then pass, and releasing a slow breath he relaxed.
The Spear moved away, as Lugh resumed his pacing. Dagda had offered levity, then offered patient counsel, neither had altered the mood so he again lapsed into silence and slow rhythmic motions of the churn.
When figures appeared from over the hill, Lugh came to an immediate halt, in an instant moving to a perfect warriors pose for attack or defence.
"Armed men approach. Rouse yourself and ready."
The Dagda lazily rolled his head over and took a glance at the approaching force, in particular the scraggly haired broad shouldered youth in front.
"They're with me."
Lugh began to relax, but abruptly stiffened.
"What trick is this?!? That cannot be him. The blows I dealt him were mortal and ending. No skill in healing may bring back the dead! No matter, the slight stands and I will see his corpse at my feet again!"
Lugh reached back, muscles bunched and feet placed, spear raised for a killing cast, leveled squarely at the broad youth. When this Spear was loosed, none could stand against it.
His eyes were fixed upon his prey, when sudden pain exploded in his wrist and hand, and the spear stuck fast to his grip. It was so unexpected as to bring a yelp to his lips, eyes coming up to rest upon his hand, and seeing the massive paw of another encompassing it in a crushing grip. His eyes followed the hand to the arm, bunched broad with muscle, and up to a face likened to a dark thunder cloud.
The Dagda had moved.
In the space of a hearts beat he was upon the de Deann champion and had ceased all of his motion. Lugh' eyes met the Dagda's and saw in their deep black darkness a rage barely kept in check. The heart of a champion is no quailing thing and Lugh's bright shining eyes hardened to quick frost, as he began to gather his strength and ready his body.
The word was a soft whisper and included a fractional increase in the grips pressure. To his credit, Lugh took the pain without reaction, but stilled himself as he assessed this new threat.
Lugh had long seen the Dagda as he lumbered about slow and steady, his large frame carrying his weight and giving a slope to his broad shoulders. The clothes he wore always seemed too tight and just slightly better than filthy rags about his frame. A champion such as he could demand the finest of raiment as Lugh did, but the fair haired war leader had never seen the Dagda in anything other than basic work wear.
Lugh knew this to be a choice the Dagda made, appearing slow and small so as not to scare anyone with the massive size of him, but in moments like this, when the Dagda moved as he just had, all pretense fell away. Lugh's eyes roamed up from the massive fist, along thick muscled arm to broad shoulders set straight as the Dagda took his full height. His big barrel chest strained against the cloth he wore and the cords of thick tendon showed on his neck.
The scraggly beard and moustache surround a thin line of his lips, normally so full and smiling, now tight over clenched teeth. Nostrils flared in his broad nose as he forcibly drew in and released slow breaths, his brow, normally at rest or raised in levity, was lowered bringing a heavy frown above his eyes.
Not much ever escaped the gaze of the Dagda, sharp dark eyes, normally so full of depth and wisdom, and not a small amount of mischief, were at this moment locked squarely on Lugh, empty of all compassion, empty of all caring full only of rage.
The heart of a champion is no quailing thing, and Lugh is a champion amongst champions, but in that moment he saw a true death awaiting him.
Lugh sensed something in that foreboding that he had never felt about the Dagda before and he found his eyes drawn down to the other muscled arm and the length of wood held ready in a big fist. Removed from the churn he now saw it was not some stout handle but a massive club of dark wood, the handle wrapped in bindings to aid grip. Death seemed to ride up along its length and into the Dagda's fist.
Death. The power of true endings.
Lugh's eyes came back up to the Dagda's gaze and in that look the big man saw his realisation. Dagda saw the younger warrior consider his mortality and that more than anything broke the moment.
Dagda let loose a rush of breath and releasing the other warrior took a quick step backwards. His dark eyes fell to his clenched fist and the death touch wood there in. Seeing his own arm twitch and shake from the effort of holding it still.
"Remember your promise."
He spoke the words to himself, but heard another reply to him.
"Of what do you speak? How come you upon this power of endings?"
Dagda closed his eyes and allowed memory take him
Such a fine child, open and caring and quiet, but with maybe a bit too much of Dagda's charm.
It was that which must have gotten him in the mess, but the sorrowful Chieftain could not say his son Cermad, wasn't following in his footsteps. Alas those steps had lead him to Lugh's wife.
By the time Dagda had heard of these things and rushed across the land, it was too late. Arriving he had seen his son laid low, with many wounds placed upon him so that his body could not bear them and life had left him.
Lugh stood over the boy victorious in his vengeance, but as the Big Chieftain approached he took up his defence.
"The challenge was given for the betrayal and he took it up with honour."
Lugh's voice held its anger just in check, his eyes watching the Dagda as the Big man slowly closed the distance. Dagda's eyes were fixed only for his fallen child, barely seeing the still reddened Spear aimed at him. Slumping to his knees upon the ground, big hands trembling, he gathered his son to him.
"Promise me! Promise me Lugh that it ends here and now, and no enemy of me will you make this day."
The words were quiet and small coming from his mouth, yet Lugh knew that his decision in this moment would be binding.
"You have my word on it and by my name let it be true. Honour is settled."
So saying the shining one left that place and the Dagda to his grief. The Big man looked down upon his son, grown to manhood, but always his child, brushing the unruly mop of hair from his cold lifeless face.
"What a mess you have gotten yourself into Cermad my boy."
Skilled in all the ways of the healing as he was, there was no cure for death. Dagda searched his mind and laid upon his offspring the fullest extent of his talents, sealing the wounds and stopping times corruption of the flesh, but for all that he could make the body whole, he could not return that which had left.
As the Chieftain looked down upon the body of his boy, tears rolling freely amidst the sweat of his labours, the sadness came strong and black upon him. It was not long before the flutter of wings brought his eyes up, away from his boy. Blackest of birds, the Crow alighted on a nearby branch, head cocked quizzically as it surveyed the scene.
"Away now! This one is not for you."
The Dagda made to shoo the bird off but his labours had drained him and his tired arms would not lift.
Caw! exclaimed the crow and hopped down gliding to the still chest of the boy. It turned its head this way and that eyes brightly shining and beak clicking as it pondered.
"I said away!"
The red of the Dagda's anger flashed through him and in a moment he was on his feet. Startled the crow flapped and cawed it's way back to the branches, mightily disturbed by the Big mans sudden action.
"No. Not for you. If no power exists in Erin to bring back what's mine then I will leave and find it elsewhere in the world!"
So saying the mighty Chieftain took to task the journey, big hands gently raising him son up across his shoulders, and set his legs to moving. All the while the Crow called after him, but he would not be stayed.
Off the land to the east he went, out of Erin and over the Ninth wave to foreign shores.
Those that saw him, noted a big broad man, weighed down bearing a burden the size of a full grown man across his shoulders, hunched forward and low, legs pushing him along.
Those that spoke to him, found a small voice asking for those knowledgable in the ways of healing.
Those with skill in healing shared all they knew, but nought could raise his burden.
Long was the journey, and distant the lands the Dagda crossed, until hope itself began to die within the Big mans breast.
Sweat streaked and heart broken his feet barely raising enough to justify a shuffle, Dagda moved onward.
The still unmoving burden across his shoulders no more a physical burden to him now than when he had carried him as an infant, but the weight around his heart could not be shifted by the memories of those joys in holding his son.
So it was that the three brothers of further lands first encountered the Dagda.
A stoop shouldered, dejected man moving with some difficulty along the dirt road, in the baking heat, a heavy burden upon him.
When stop him they did, he barely noticed them until one moved to touch the bound and covered form that was his son. The redness of the rage flashed within him and in an unthought of movement, the Dagda's fist connected with the side of the mans head, and felled him down dead.
Shouts arose as the other brothers decried the act, and as the Dagda stepped back from his irresponsible deed, shame brought him to clarity. To the Chieftain's shock, one of the brothers brought forth a massive club and laying its handle against the wound, restored life to his fallen family.
Seeing the deed done before his eyes with such ease the Dagda was moved to plead with them for his own son's life, but the brothers would not be swayed to his words.
Talking of their great powers gifted on to them from their fathers inheritance, Dagda heard of the arts that each could accomplish with their gift, all the while his mind fixed on that club.
Dark is the mind bereft of hope, but to see all that he required kept from him in that moment, that darkness spilled to desperation.
Again he asked for but the use of the weapon to restore that which was lost to him, but this plea fell upon deaf ears, for the brothers stated why should others gain from the powers which were theirs by right.
To see hearts so closed to him, drew the Dagda to a mighty rage, and he set about them all of a sudden, close an crushing.
The first of the brothers drew forth a pair of knives and with a wicked smile, disappeared from view. Yet the Chieftain would not be fooled in this. What his eyes could not see, his ears and nose could still track, and as his prey moved to pass him, aiming to get behind and slash at him, the Dagda's mighty fist fetched him a punch which drew the wind from his lungs in a cry soon strangled off as his ribs shattered.
The second brothers form shifted, becoming that of some great ursine beast rearing to its hind legs to roar at the Tuatha De denann warrior. The isle of Erin long had such bears and the Dagda was familiar with the hunt of their form. Strong and dangerous creatures, but the knowledge of all things weaknesses was the Dagda's to call upon.
As the brute lunged to him, the Chieftain ducked low and rolled over his shoulder to get round behind the creature. Springing to his feet, he kicked out hard at the back of the beast knee driving it low. As it's shoulders came within reach, the Dagda leapt upon its back and wrapped his massive arms about its thick neck. Locking his grip he denied it its air. Loosing control of the power the form shifted back to that of the second brother and when his struggling became frantic, The Dagda wrenched his grip to the side with the sound of bones snapping.
The third brother had stood a back, knowing the ways of his other brothers battles and leaving what should have been an easy kill to them. As this stranger stood up, all signs of the weary old man gone from him, all sign of the reasonable pleading father removed from his face, the man saw the truth of the Dagda and despaired.
The last brother looked to the bodies of his kin, and to the club in his hand, weighing the odds. The large mans dark eyes fell upon him and the third brother fell to his knees, seeing only doom in them.
Words spilled from him, apologising, pleading, surrendering wholly to this Warrior, yet no words broke that deaths gaze, nor stirred the face set against him.
Dagda moved slowly, rage having spilled over in his mind until all became cold as a snow's burn. His son. Lost to him all this time, taken from him and all hope of healing denied to him this long time. All the footsteps taken, all the tears shed into those steps as he carried his boy upon his shoulders. All to find a means to restore him and have it held from him.
The third brothers words fell upon deaf ears, lost in the roaring of the Dagda's own blood and the hammering of his heart. Hands offered him a length of wood and as his big fist closed about its hide wrapped handle, the power of death rolled up his arm to fill the hollowed out expanse of his heart.
The splash of hot liquid in his face was the first indicator to his brain that his body had moved. The thump of the club wood crushed the third brothers skull as he knelt prostrate before the Dagda. Blood fountained up and bathed the warrior in the Dagda's red, as his shoulders came around and about again to bring the weapon down again upon the body before him. Rhythm and movement flowed in him as death and destruction rode upon his arm.
It was the roar that brought him to his senses. Loud and bellowing, mixed with rage, pain and hate it startled the Dagda back a step as he realised it issued from his own throat.
Blinking slowly his eyes focused for the first time on the scene about him.
The first brother, curled in a ball face blotched and bloodied, distended from gasping for air that would not come.
The second brother, sprawled forward in the dirt, head twisted around staring with empty eyes at the heavens.
The third brother, crushed almost beyond reckoning, in a broad spread of blood and viscera.
The Dagda had killed before. Had taken the life of those deserving an ending. Had battled foes stepped against him and placed honourable combat upon them, but this last death shocked him.
There was no other word for it. The foe was broken and surrendered. Kneeling in the dirt pleading to be spared. Offering more than fair payment for his life in the club now clenched in his big fist.
Dagda's eyes moved to that club, feeling the power of endings wrapped around and balanced against the power of beginnings within it.
The words where but a whisper from his rasping throat, but he set his Will to the words and put them upon himself.
"By the powers I hold, by Sun, Moon, Land and tide, by all knowledge and wisdom I carry, I take on this responsibility to never again take the life of one who is not declared mine enemy, and to offer life to any who call me friend. This is my Promise."
"Of what promise do you speak? Answer me Chieftain."
Lugh's tone was firm as he rolled his Will out towards the Big Man. The hearts of champions are no quailing thing indeed.
Dagda blinked to be brought back from memory.
"By your word and your name you declared an end and honour satisfied that day. To do anything else would make an enemy of me."
Dagda levelled his gaze upon Lugh and allowed his emotions their place, taking responsibility for himself and allowing the other warrior his chance.
His words rolled out soft across the distance between them and bound up about Lugh in this moment.
The shining one was no coward yet neither was he a fool. His ice blue eyes flashed from the approaching warriors, lead by Cermad, then back to the dark gaze of the Dagda, and at last falling to that weapon clenched in a massive fist.
The heart of a champion is no quailing thing, but it his head that makes him great, and Lugh stood tall amidst the greatest.
"No enemy would I ever make of The Dagda."
And so saying he lowered his gaze and settled down to a crouch, butt of the spear planted in the earth, resting himself against it. When he looked up again the Dagda had returned to slouch by the churn, and it was only then that Lugh found the question.
"Hold on! You were making butter with that thing?"
The Dagda looked up to see the shock and surprise on the Champion's face, and couldn't help but smile.
"What? I wondered what it would taste like."
As the Warband arrived they found a stunned and shocked looking Lugh and the Dagda bellowing with laughter.
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An Scéalaí Beag