Pleasant shadow song
The waves broke on the gnarled rocks below the tower of Tory island.
A cyclopean glass tower that looked down on Inish Veil. The tower cut through the grey clouds, piercing them like a shining arrow of ice. It spiraled into the heavens but stood alone. Stretching out below it, wallowing in the mist of Tory isle was a grand dark fortress that seemed centuries older than the shining tower. It sat like a squat toad on the jagged rocks of Tory isle and seemed to menace the sea and the sky alike in its ugly brutal aspect. For its construction was not common to the region and could not be recognized as either Firbolg nor Tuatha. It was an imposing black structure made of giant sea smoothed megaliths that no man could move and there was no way to know how deep into the earth they sat.
Inside the glass tower a maiden hummed to herself as there was no one else to hum to. She sat on the edge of her grand gilted bed decorated with jade cut stone and stared out of the window of her room at the very top of the tower. Her humming then turning to song to comfort her profound loneliness. Her voice sweet and melodic but with a sadness that hung in the damp salty air.
“In a time of myth and magic,
lived a man of timeless power,
Lir was his name,
but his temper had turned sour.
He would not be king of the land,
Bov Dearg was chosen instead.
Lir would pay no tribute to him,
And secretly wished he was dead.
A sound outside bid her to stand and move over to the window and look out down below at the bay. A boat was making port. Many of her kin were departing but with them was the shape of a woman she assumed was the seer Birog. There was another much larger they dragged behind them on ropes. Keeping as much slack as possible as if it were some kind of savage animal, they feared wake.
“Alas with time Lir’s wife did lie,
and he was full of great sadness,
Dearg heard this and sent word to Lir,
to meet with him in his palace.
When they met they both embraced,
Their friendship was made then.
Dearg summoned his daughter eve,
And told Lir he must marry again,”
As she watched them pull the huge beast up from the shore. She stopped her singing as the maiden felt a strange tingling in her chest and after a moment she realised it was her heart beating faster.
“Tuan Mac Cairill at your service” The strange red headed man said as he put out his hand cordially.
The fisherman stared at the strangers hand and then at his strange smiling face. “Aye well you can do me a service and tell me what did ye do with me dog?!” The fisherman shouted at the unusual red headed man.
The man shifted in his seat and gave an unconvincing grin. He was tall compared to a tuathan and lithe and had the long tapered fingers of a thief. A quaffed head of red hair like a foxes tail and an unusual face with features uncommon to the region dotted with freckles. He wore a green tunic and trousers which appeared to be no material the fisherman had ever seen before. They took on the texture almost of an animals fur or a fish’s scale.
“Speak damn you! If you can speak!”
The strange man sighed “Well I am your dog, or I was your dog, well I technically still am or I never was...”
“Is it a curse that makes you talk such rot or are ye just touched in the heed?”
“It’s a long story” the strange man smiled.
The fisher let go of the hilt of his sword assured that the stranger meant him no harm. “Aye well you’re in my house.” He picked up a stool next to the horse and sat at the table adjacent the stranger. “I’m not going anywhere and I love a good story” He said as he plodded himself down hard on the small stool with his hands on his knees and a stern look in his eyes. “Well go on then”.
“I needed your aid-“
“Finding that ‘slayer of Slaghtaverty?’”
The strange man sighed “Not everything a bard sings is true.”
“So he didn’t murder the children of Slaghtaverty?”
“He did that truly but take my word, as I am a man now from whence I was a dog, they were not children when he slew them.”
“Then what were they?” The fisherman sitting up straight to scoff and raise his bushy eyebrows.
“I don’t know, something else entirely, but I assure you if he had not slew them the village of Slaghtaverty would be a memory only recalled in bards song.” The man said as he narrowed his eyes.
“Why did you need my help, you’re some kind of a druid obviously.” The fisherman sat up and folded his arms alternating between gesturing and scratching his neck. “Why didn’t you just change yourself into a fish and pull him out yourself. And what were ya doing out there in the first place how does a boat sink that close to shore?” He mused.
“We didn’t sink, we were sunk, heading to Tory isle.” The strange man sighed and for a moment his eyes darted around the room and he looked furtive. “I- I have a problem with turning into sea creatures. A bad experience or two, I’d rather not speak on it.”
“So you were on it when it sank?” The fisherman mused scratching under his chin in amazement.
“That’s how I knew where it was, vaguely. I was the only one who escaped, I had no choice but to change into a bird and fly away.”
“So you left them there to die.” The fisherman said in a hushed town as if it was shameful to even say.
“I had no choice, they unleashed some sort of creature, it tore the ship a part like kindling and pulled it down to the sea floor.” The man shook his head.
“So that’s why you needed me, let me get eaten by the sea monster- and while it chews on my gristled arse you and your one armed mate make a getaway.”
“I’d overheard you in the tavern, by the sounds of it you like tussling with a sea monster or two. It was unlikely they’d pay any attention to a fisherman a little further out from shore.” He sighed. “So I would just nudge you in the right direction. I wasn’t all that sure where it was but you had a keen eye for this sort of thing, it only took a year or two by my count.”
“How can you stand being a dog for a year?”
“My friend, I’ve been a dog for much longer, I spend more time in an animal form than I do this one. So long in fact I’ve forgotten my original form.” Tuan said wistfully.
“How is it a man can stay underwater that long and still live, is he like you?” The fisherman said looking down at the shack floor.
“He is cursed, we’re both the last of our race, we have that in common, but he and I are not the same. My reckoning is that every now and then when a race meets it’s end it’s been so that the gods allow one to live for whatever reason, to pass on knowledge or-“
“So what race is that and where do ye get this nonsense from?”
“He is Firbolg”
“I gathered from his size and temperament and the rumours swirling around his exploits in Slaghtaverty, but I meant you.” The fisherman said pointing a round weathered finger.
“Another time perhaps” Tuan smiled.
“Why set sail to Tory isle in the first place?”
“We’d heard Bres was moving food and resources there so we assumed it was where he fled to.”
“So what are you going to do now, go back to licking your own balls for another few years?”
“I need to get to Tory isle and you’re going to help me”
“And why would I do a thing like that for a trickster and liar like yourself?” The fisherman said.
“To claim your prize”
“Bah! it’s more trouble than it’s worth.” He said waving away the treasure in the his mind.
“There must be other riches on Tory isle, untold wealth, a thief like myself could secure you a plentiful sum and all you’d need do is tell me how to get there.” Tuan smirked as he leaned forward.
“Surely you’ve flown over the isle as a bird, why do you need my help?” The fisherman said over folded arms.
Tuan sighed and looked over the table as eh spoke flipping a fishing spool between his fingers. “I have done as you’ve said but the island is completely baron of life, I can only assume magic is the cause of this.”
“So it is as the rumours say”. The fisherman stroked his bearded chin and spoke softly as if to himself.
Tuan looked the fisherman in his eyes and said “Tell me of Balor of the baleful eye”.
“Lir’s love for Eve was as strong as with his first wife,
A seed was planted, Fionnula and Aedh were born.
But her next child birth would take away her life,
Fiachra and Conn, from their mothers stomach were torn.”
A sweet voice sang above the distant crashing of the waves and the silence, there were no birds to be heard at all, just the waves and this melodic voice. Then the feeling of cold stone against skin, the smell of blood and sweat and dirt.
“Lir’s sadness knew no bounds -
he cried out to the night,
Dearg was there to comfort him
and help him see the light.”
The voice hummed and sang quietly almost as a whisper.
Cur stirred and could open his eye and see that he was in a dungeon of sheer cut black stone, the only light coming from the slit under the door. He couldn’t move his arm and neck felt stiff. He strained against it and could hear the rattle of a lock. Craning his neck he could see he was restrained with a hard wooden stockade around his neck, binding his only hand firmly beside his head. The seering pain, turning into a dull familiar ache told him they were imbued with some kind of magic. As he strained against them he felt no give in the grain of the wood at all and to do so made him feel weaker.
“He had four beautiful children
and with time another bride,
Eve’s sister Aoife would stay loyal to his side.”
“Who goes there?” The barbarian growled as he struggled to turn and find the source of the song.
“But Aiofe had a jealous side - a canker in her mind,
She moved against the children, love for them she could not find.
She took them in her chariot to a lake not far away.
And changed them into swans like night time into day.”
The barbarian turned his body, the feeling of wet straw and stone under him as he faced the door and saw a beautiful big green eye staring at him. The eye was an emerald pool as deep as and as glistening as any ocean and carried with it an innocence and a sadness Cur had not seen in a long time.
But the moment the eye saw him he heard a girl gasp and the slot was closed tightly.
“Who are you wench?”
“I- I’m no one, a maid in the castle.” The meek voiced said.
“This is no bed chamber, away with you!” Cur hissed.
“You’re the one they brought on the boat.” The girl whispered.
Cur breathed steadily and lifted himself off the ground and with only his knees found a firm stone cot in the dark. He lifted his immense weight and sat upon it.
“I came here in a boat some time ago and it was scuppered”
“By the Nucklavee!”
“What is this Nucklavee, where am I?”
“You’re on Tory isle sir and the Nucklavee eats boats, it lives under this castle, it’s a monster created by Domnu himself. A huge beast the size of a castle, it looks like a giant horse and it’s breath spreads a foul plague.”
“A plague?” Cur said as he gazed into the inky blackness of his cell.
“It was created by Domnu to cast out the unclean invaders that would tread on the sacred island” She spoke monotonously as if reading from a scroll.
Cur laughed mockingly “This land is not yours fomorian”
The timid girl reopened the peephole and the emerald eye looked at the barbarians back up and down. Following the lines of his grotesque muscles and scars. “It is ours, we were here when it was created, before the Nemedians, and the Partholonians both.”
Cur spat and bitterly hissed his proclamation. “We carried the earth on our backs to this land. Our blood is in the soil. Our fathers buried on the hearth. Our sweat in waters, we are this land, our bones are it’s mortar our flesh its walls.”
“You were never meant to have this land, it was never meant to be a home. We were sworn to protect it from our birth, it is a place of great power, no man was meant to have it.” She said her hand quivered as it held the handle to the peephole as she began to close it.
Cur laughed “Let me out and I’ll show you who this land belongs.” Cur laughed and sprung at the door with the last of his strength. “Tell me wench! Have you ever had a man between your thighs?” He laughed that wicked devil laugh and lapped like a vile imp at the air with his evil long tongue through the peephole.
The girl gasped and fell back, her silvery blonde hair falling in front of her face. He caught only a glimpse of her through the peephole. She was a slip of a girl wearing a silk gown of the deepest sea green.
The girl gasped again as the sound of loud footfalls could be heard approaching.
“I must go now!” She whispered.
Cur cackled after her lapping at the air “Don’t go wench! He cackled after her watching as she quickly wafted up into a spiralled staircase “I can smell your chastity from here” He laughed.
Two large vaguely humanoid figures entered from a passage on the otherside. They wore nothing but loin clothes made of shark leather, and carried fisherman pikes. Their skin was a mosaic of strange green blue coloured scale. Both their heads were squat with large flat mouths and huge round eyes that protruded from the sides of their heads. Giving them a look of permanent irritated surprise.
“You come with us maggot!”
“Balor will see you now!”
Cur grinned at the pair through the peephole and laughed.