A heavy foot fell sploshing a muddy puddle, thick like drying cold blood. The rainfall a monotonous droning metronome to the drumbeat of padding heavy feet. So torrential it was it almost drowned out the sound of the sea crashing and cresting behind the ragged figure. The man wrapped clung tightly to himself and trudged his way through the downpour up the hill.
The figure was tall and dressed in a long drab coat a mutt nipping at his sodden heals.
“Aye steady on boy” A booming voice said. “We’re almost home now”. The figure said with a covetous smile as he clutched a wrapped item to his breast. The figure’s eyes were furtive for a moment to gaze over the hill and back along the shoreline at his boat resting, slowly filling with rain. When he was sure he was alone he continued up the hill to a small fisherman shack on the edge of the cliff looking out at the sea. It was a lonely shack surrounded by empty hills and valleys and flat lands lain with wet grass. The greenest grass you’ve ever seen and below churned a grey frothy sea that leapt and lapped at the land.
The shack was tiny and isolated on the edge Meenlaragh, a small fishing village on the northern coast of Ulster. The shack itself seemed to be constructed from a portion of a large ships keel. The roof of which sloped on either side to make point coming together on top forming a shape almost like a bow. The wood was dark and weathered with barnacles clinging to the sides, all manner of nets and ropes hanging outside. The door was a simple barn door bolted with heavy rusted rivets of iron.
There was a warm glow coming from it and a horse whineying.
“I’m coming Enbarr, I’m home girl” The figure shouted.
The ragged figure opened the door quickly and bundled himself inside, the dog following after shaking off the rain. The man closed and bolted his door and hurriedly threw his coat off one arm at a time so as to not let the package out of his grasp.
The man was a large and ruddy common elf with a big bushy beard, red of cheek. He was of a middle age with a barrelled chest and round gut but he held a spryness of step and a child-like twinkle in his eye. His arms were ropey and strong with large gnarled sea beaten hands. His back was broad and sloped and he walked with a creaking sound in his knee and a slight limping hop as if he was accustomed more to swimming than walking.
The merry figure beamed and almost leapt to a small cluttered reading table by his bed. The inside of the shack was simple, a firepit in the centre crackled with a blackened pot over it, bubbling with a foul smelling fishy stew. The furniture appeared to be crafted from similar driftwood as fit the shacks construction. His bed was a large but simple hammock made of nets and furs. The lack of windows and the rain beating on the roof and the sound of the sea churning made it feel like a ship out of port.
The large ruddy faced man carelessly swept away the clutter and debris that lay scattered on his table. He then carefully placed the wrapped package on down as if it were a swaddling babe. He took another furtive glance about himself as if the walls of the shack might betray him. Some crack or hollowed knot might hide an eye that spied him.
He looked at the dog who panted at his side seeming to share his curiosity and excitement.
The man licked his bearded chop and breathed deeply as he began to slowly unwrap the mysterious package. The bearded man sighed after a moment as if forgetting how to breathe. As if he feared his breath might disturb the package somehow or alert some shrouded watcher.
Carefully he unwrapped the object, and finally as it lay naked on his work table, the meagre light from the firepit glinting off of it. His eyes widened and appeared to turn bright and silver. His mouth hanging open, almost salivating at the sight of the object as it seemed to glow and hum with potential.
“Beautiful” He gasped.
The dog barked in answer and the man looked back at him and began to laugh gleefully. In an instant he hopped out of his chair like a little boy and picked up the dog by his front paws and began to dance a jig with him.
“Ye did it boy, ah you’re a good dog laddie” He laughed as he swung the dog about the room gleefully. The dog barked and panted happily sharing in his masters excitement. “Ye knew exactly where to look, I knew ye was a good luck charm the moment I found ye, ye good dog ye!”
The bearded man laughed as he let the dog go, the dog jumped up and barked. The horse in the corner whineyed and the jolly man turned to it as it stood corralled in it’s spot in the tiny shack, protected from the rain.
“Aye I havene’ forgotten about ye, you’re a good horse too.” He paused raising a finger and grinning. “Aye the best horse” He added laughing.
The bearded man looked at the dog “We’ll be rich!” He licked his lips and paced about the room thinking about the riches and what he’d do with them. “Aye I’ll buy a castle – a small castle mind, by a lake.” He paced and panted “And I’ll find a bonnie lass-“ He smiled. “And I’ll pay every bard and poet to sing the name ‘Manannán mac Lir’ far and wide. Tell’em all I’ve got the biggest fishing pole in all of Inish Veil” He laughed uproariously.
His laughter was suddenly caught in his throat, he froze as if he felt icy fingers on the back of his neck. He turned back to look at the unwrapped package on his shabby work table.
He leapt across the room, faster than would be assumed by his size. He rapidly bundled the package and looked about the small shack for a place to stash the valuable trinket.
“Aha” Manannan exclaimed as he spied a small mound of blankets and hay which he fashioned as a makeshift bed for the dog. He hopped across the room and slipped the package under the folds of the blankets and hay and stepped back to admire his handy work. “Be a good boy laddie and look after it fer me won’t you.” He said looking at the dog.
The dog whined quizzically.
“Tomorrow you’ll take me back to the spot of that wreck and we’ll see if there’s a body to go with it” He laughed. “Tomorrow” He said again as he sat himself down on his hammock and took off his boots. He shook his head excitedly and said finally “Tomorrow” As he pulled a moth eaten blanket over himself and fell fast asleep.
The dog too returned to his bed, now with company making the soft mound slightly skew and off centre. The dog pulled at the wrappings of the package and some of it fell away, poking out of the loosely wrapped swaddling.
Revealing a shining hand made of pure silver.
The next morning bright and early and under the cover of mist and unending rain. Manannan sat in his little reliable boat he’d affectionately named ‘Scuabtuinne’. The dog sat shaking nervously next to him. The mutt sat close as was physically possible without being in his lap as Manannan rowed with his long thick arms carving the waves.
The dog barked and pinned it’s ears.
Manannan took the dogs bark as an answer and grinned broadly “Is it here boy?” Manannan exclaimed “Is this the spot?” Manannan looked about himself, the shoreline of Meenlaragh was barely visible now. But before him he remembered now, through the mist he could see the shore of Tory island, that cursed rock his ancestors feared. Looming up out of the water like the devils buck tooth. No Tuatha de’ would dare set foot on that island nor even sail around it. His people believed it housed a great evil that bled into the waters around it. A monster that caused his ancestors to flee this island centuries past. Even now, upon their return, they dare not wake it.
Manannan stopped to stare at the looming misshapen rock and he felt his blood run cold and he could swear there were eyes upon him. But the feeling lasted only a moment, for suddenly he noticed the waves made no sound. The water was still and the rain had stopped, when only a moment ago the two were a cacophony tossing his little boat. Manannan stared with much confusion at the stillness of the water, like a lake, he gazed at the water and saw nothing, not even his own reflection. The boat had stopped moving completely and the water looked almost as if it had turned to ice or was solid stone.
The silence was deafening, his own breath in his ears became a nuisance to him and the dog barked but no sound came from his mouth. Then suddenly out of the water sprang a shapeless thing covered in seaweed and the bones of dead sailors. It wrapped its icy muscular arm around his neck and pulled him down into the crushing depth before he could even scream.
Manannan awoke from his terrible nightmare flailing like a blind man, turning over and falling from his hammock onto the wooden floor.
The dog raised its head to spy the source of the noise from its slumbering position, before resting it’s head back into the palm of the silverhand.
Manannan raised himself slowly and trudged over to the dog shooing him from his bed and taking the silver arm as if it were a bone.
He looked at it, his face drawn and lacking it’s usual mirthful glow.
“What have you got me into?” He sighed.
Despite his dream of ill omen, Manannan went out again to the spot where he could see the dreaded island of myth. He breathed heavily as he now recognised the dogs trepidation.
The boat idled over the spot of the wreck, the waves licked the side of the boat hungrily. The rain beating down as it always did creating a steady background static. The clouds overhead, grey and glistening. The occasional crash of thunder, the cymbal rush overture to the steady metronome timpani of the sea and the rain.
Slowly he took off his drab coat putting it to one side and then his boots. The dog gave him a knowing glance which Manannan felt puzzled by. He sighed and resigned himself to what felt unavoidable but all together foolish.
The fisherman dove into the cold grey waters.
And the waves were cold, cold as the grave, but that didn’t bother Manannan, he was used to it. He’d wager he’d spent more time in those waters than on land and had built up a thick coat of fat to insulate himself with many trips to local taverns. There he would recite tales, real or imagined of his many battles with creatures of the sea, of the great catches and the ones that got away. All would listen, even those that did not believe a word of it. He was an adventurer of sorts, a tall tale spinner, some would wager he learnt to wield a sword during his time as a pirate. But none could be certain and Manannan wisely, was tight lipped on his murky past. Now he spent his later years in seclusion as a fisherman and scavenger.
The dog waited in the boat shivering, but not from cold, the dog too was used to the cold and the wet. No the dog shivered because he knew what was waiting. Down below those waves was not for mortal men. Every wave the movement of some vile beast, every hiss of the spray a threat of impending doom.
The dog waited silently for his master to return, for it had been sometime. But it was not unlike Manannan who boasted he could hold his breath for ten minutes.
By the dog’s count it had been nine minutes.
Manannan punched through the grey waters triumphantly splashing the poor dog who shook off the vile sea water.
The large barrel chested man smirked broadly forgetting his initial fear of his ancestors. As he dragged behind him a large object wrapped tightly in nets and sodden sack cloth.
The fisherman climbed onto his boat holding the mooring of the large sack in his teeth as he situated himself. The cold wind nipped at him and he shivered but smiled still as he excitedly pulled the enormous package aboard with some great difficulty.
“Ay by Danu, this is heavy!”
Whatever it was, it was large, in fact with it, there left very little room in the boat and would make it very awkward to row back to shore.
Manannan rubbed the dogs head “We’ve done it this time laddie!”.
But the dog did not bark, it sat transfixed by the object in the sack.
Manannan was confused for a moment and then he swallowed hard as he felt a sudden chill.
It was moving.
Manannan stifled his breath and lifted an oar with his foot and raised it up to his hand. Gripping it he slowly prodded the strange unknown mass in his boat. The wrapped thing moved like a sleep walker or a drunk trying to wake up. Shifting slightly with a strange wet sopping sound and then it rolled and some of the wrapping fell away.
A white shape fell out and seemed to flop spasmodically on the deck of the small boat. It took a moment for Manannan to get his senses about it, his mind reeling for all manner of sea beast it could pertain to.
But suddenly it dawned on Manannan that what he was seeing was all too familiar and hearkened to no manner of sea dweller. For it was a mans arm.
Whispered voices, a man and a woman, the smell of fish and rotting wood, salt spray and then faintly underneath, the smell of fresh pine and yew.
“You were right to bring him here” The woman said. The woman was small but well built wearing a long black riding cloak. She turned for a moment and you could’ve sworn to catch a glimpse of autumn red hair before it was tucked away again.
“Aye then why do I feel like I just stepped into a pile of shite up to the hairs of me chin?” Manannan exclaimed. “It’s not every day I pull a one armed man with a face like a cows branded arse out of a sunken ship.”
“He needs more time to heal”
“Heal? He should be fish shit, that wreck has been there for years, no one wants to go near it there’s rumours of a curse on Tory isle.”
“Rumours spread by you.”
“Aye, well it was no harsh waters that took that ship to its watery grave, that island has history.”
“Send for me when he awakes, I’ll make sure you’re properly compensated for your efforts, but you must not breathe a word of this to anyone.” The woman said.
“Who is he that you would pay me to keep him hidden here?”
She took a deep breath and after moment almost whispered “The once and future king.”