The fire pit popped and cracked in the center of the round house. The farmers gathered close with their mead and whiskey to wait as the bard Coirpre tuned his lute. Breathing in and out deeply as he plucked each string in turn. Sitting with his back to the daub wall, where finger marks could be seen in the crudely layered earthen clay.
The ridges of the branch frame sticking out in places like the ribs of a starved horse. A facsimile of the Leinster coat of arms; that of the golden harp hung above the hearth.
A mouse ran along the beams as the wind howled outside. The cold seeping through the thatching making a terrible ghostly whistling noise and disturbing the fire.
The bard doffed his grouse feathered cap and smiled as he rested the lute in his lap and started to play.
“This poem, I have affectionately dubbed; ‘Bres the bastard’” The poet smiled glancing around the room for a covered smile but found naught but dead silence.
“What?!” A woman cawed at once.
A man in green tunic leapt from his stool “We feed you and give you a bed and you insult our king?!”
“Good people, it’s merely satire; you wouldn’t criticize my work before even hearing it would you?
“That you may die roarin like Doran’s arse we would aye!” A broad bearded man said.
“Please there’s no need for this, another ballad perchance, I have many”.
“Many a time a man’s mouth broke his nose” The bearded man spat.
“What’s a ‘bastard’, grandfather?” A little girl asked as she bounced on the old man’s knee twiddling her braided hair tween her finger and thumb.
The old grey haired man in the grey woolen cloak looked down at her and sighed “Well it’s a man ere not knowing who his father be.”
The little girl scrunched up her freckled face “How could he not know that?”
“Well ya see-“ The old man turned his long grey face to the banging shutters. Then glanced over at the small crowd gathered around the poet shouting and heckling and pulling at him.
“Grandfather, can you tell me the story of the other king instead?” She said swinging her blond plaited hair about her bonny face unable to keep still.
“Child, I’ve told you that story so many times you should be able to recite it by rote”
“And I could that” The little girl pouted and preened.
“Well go on with yourself then”
“I will” The little girl put her hands on her hips and tipped her head back putting her finger to her lips. “Mmm well there once was these men”
“Were they just men were they?” Her grandfather jested.
“There once were these people, mmm and they were called the Nemedians, and this was their land and they called it, erm... Inish Alga, which means; ‘the noble isle.’”
“But then they got sick and there was a big wave and legends say these mean monsters called the Fomori came and chased them all away. But… they didn’t all go to the same place.”
“No, where did they go child?”
“Half went north to the cities of knowledge.” The little girl’s voice droned a little as if she were reading the names. ”Falias, Gorias, Murias and.... erm.... Finias!” He caught her breathe and swallowed. “-To be with the gods and most importantly the mother goddess Danu. She bathed them in light and knowledge and shared with them her blood and they became the children of Danu. The Tuatha De Danann, which is you and me” She smiled.
Her grandfather nodded “Go on child”.
“The other Nemedians weren’t as lucky. They went south and were 'slaved and treated very badly by the dwellers of that land for hundreds of years. Those mean people made them carry huge sacks of dirt on their back from morning until night. Made to eat the worst food and live in the most horrible conditions.
But like the winter makes the tree bark gnarled and like iron; the children of Nemed became savage by nature. As soon as a male child was born he was thrown in a pit with hungry dogs and if the boy child didn’t kill the dogs with his bare hands, it would surely kill him.
Soon they became so strong growing to the size of giants they broke free of their slave masters and slaughtered them. Carrying sacks of dirt on their backs twice the size of them all the way through the desert and across the sea to the land they knew as their home Inish Alga.
They called themselves ‘The Firbolg’ the people of the bag after the earth that shaped this land.
The earth they took from that harsh realm transformed this land from craggy cliffs to a rich farmland. For a long time they cultivating the land endlessly warring amongst themselves for control of the island.
“Then what happened” Her grandfather smirked.
“Then we came” She chirped. “Although grateful to Danu for sheltering them, the Tuatha de’ never felt truly at home and longed to return to the island they left so many years ago. With the knowledge and magic given to them by Danu they set out to return to their ancestral homeland.
But when they got to the shore in their great flying ships the Firbolg were not happy to see them. The Tuatha pleaded that they might have only a fifth of the island to call home but the cruel king Eoichid the Prideful rejected them as he only knew war. The Firbolg didn’t know how to share the land. They didn’t know how to live in tune with nature like the Tuatha de’, seeking only to bend it to their will.
The Tuatha pleaded for peace with their long lost brothers but the Firbolg denied them time and time again and before long war was their only option.
The Tuatha were not afraid of war, they had mastered the magic of the gods and were skilled warriors. But the Firbolg were a formidable foe and they outnumbered the Tuatha ten to one. Each Firbolg almost double the size of any Tuatha de’.
Still they met on the field of battle and the Firbolg even with their superior numbers and even with their size and strength could not beat the Tuatha de Danann.
The high king Eoichid angered by this challenged Nuada king of the Tuatha to a duel to decide the fate of the isle. Knowing that he could kill Nuada with one blow. Nuada accepted and with one vicious blow Eoichid cut Nuada’s shield in half and took his arm at the root. But Nuada with the last of his strength bested the wicked high king.
Without their leader all the Firbolg knew was to fight and they would fight without end until they were all wiped out. In Nuada’s mercy he offered them a province all of their own so they might live. As a reward for their bravery and martial valor. They accepted and retreated to Connacht, never to be seen again. Some say a plague took them or they fled under the hills but Connacht is a strange and haunted place to this day where no Tuatha de’ dare tread.
King Nuada in his victory renamed the isle Inish Vale ‘The island of Destiny’ after the stone they brought with them from Finias. But Nuada could not be king because a king must be perfect and without his arm he was not fit to rule. So the crown fell to Bres the bas- the Bres the Beautiful and everyone lived happily ever after.”
The old man smiled and clapped his young prodigy “Well done lass, well done.”
She smiled and tussled her hair to take a small bow.
Then there was the sharp sound of a fist thumping a table rife with malice.
“Liar” A scarred voice said.
“I beg your pardon?” The old man rose defiantly from his bench to scan the round house.
All the men were at one side of the round house pommeling and kicking the poet. The women too crowded round to geer and throw pieces of mead wet bread and cabbage at him as he lay on the sodden earthen floor in the fetal position. One of the wenches taken to wearing his grouse feather cap in jest.
The only other figure was a stooped cripple dressed like a druid with a long dark hood and cloak.
“Identify yourself stranger, who is it that calls this innocent girl a liar?”
“I do” A cold gravelly voice said.
The figure sat alone unmoving on a small round table to himself, almost unnoticeable in the darkness of the round house until now. For that was his wish.
The old man stood and drew a slim short sword pointing the tip down.
“The crows curse on you! You will stand and show me your face!”
The man didn’t move from his seat.
The old man angered by his silence took to his side and slammed his hand flat on the table in front of the stranger.
“Briseadh agus brú ar do chnámha! You will rise and give me your name cur!”
“Cur will do” The man said, his voice sending a chill down the spine of the old man.
Without cause the stranger moved like water. Without thought or pause he pinned the old man’s hand to the table with a wide oddly shaped javelin head crudely fashioned into a sword or cleaver. The head of the javelin having a rounded point like a shovel which curved into two hooking spikes. Which then recurved inward on each side creating a harsh biting cutting edge like a snake's fang.
The blade rounded shovel point was so wide it cut right through the old man’s hand and into the table. Cutting off all his fingers above the knuckle and the tip of his thumb. His white blood poured over the ash table and over the bench and on the floor.
The old man staggered back wordlessly clutching his bloody hand under his armpit. The sound of his light sword dropping on the floor drew the attention of the hecklers.
“What’s going on here?” The man in the green tunic said.
The old man swallowed and tried not to vomit or pass out “Call the chieftain” He huffed.
“What’s this?” The man said confusedly, then he saw the blood and drew a wide broadsword in one hand.
“What did he do?” The stranger in the cloak asked pointing at the crowd around the poet, kicking and jeering at him.
The man in the green tunic tightened his jaw and flared his nostrils looking back for a moment and then back at the stranger.
“He insulted our kings, what of it”
The stranger uncovered his long sinewy arm it bulged with a vicious vile intense hatred. He squeezed his fist and the room became hot with the beating of his blood. “Give me your kings!” He said in his low gravelly scarred voice. “-Let me squeeze them in my hand!”
The old man vomited and passed out, his granddaughter loudly sobbing over him as she tried to rouse him. “Grandfather!” She cried.
“Here” The man in the green tunic barked at the men crowded around the poet.
The men craned their necks trying to see by the light of the fire pit what he was jabbering about.
The stooped stranger stood to his full height then, a full two feet above every man in the round house.
With the same hand he took his hood down and a tuathan wench turning at the wrong moment bobbed her eyes at him and let out a horrifying shriek.
He was completely bald, his head and eyebrows cleanly shaven. One side of his face covered in strange markings that looked like scars but seemed all too deliberate and esoteric.
But the thing they noticed most of all was his ears.
They were rounded.
“He’s- he’s a human!”
“I thought they were all dead!”
The little girl lunged at the stranger with the short sword and thrust it into his gut. Half blinded by her tears she didn’t miss her mark burying the blade up to the hilt.
He looked down at the girl and smiled and smacked his lips kissing at her mockingly.
She shook letting go of the sword and stumbled backwards.
He laughed maniacally and pulled it out covered in his hot red blood and tossed it on the ground at the onlooker’s feet.
“Is he a monster?“
“He should be dead!”
The man in the green tunic swallowed his cold feeling of dread as he watched the stab wound close by itself. The elven young lad flung himself as if dragged by the tip of his sword at the giant.
Cur turned faster than his size would deem possible and corked his blade from the table and found it a new home in the lad’s soft skull. His face cleaved open by the wide spiked tip. His white blood and brain matter showering his kinfolk.
And the women wailed so.
The blade still buried in the lad’s face he tossed the lad like an empty sack of grain. The stranger tore his cloak from his shoulders. The man was large even for a human and was built of sinew and limestone and held together by bile and hatred. His chest heaved and his shoulders hawed but only one arm held a sword. The other was gone. Replaced only by more of the hideous scarification.
“He’s a cripple – all at once!” The crowd turned from the battered poet who lay bruised and bloodied and covered in piss on the earthen floor.
The stranger laughed and let his tongue roll out of his mouth lapping at the air madly like a dog or a viper hungry for their blood.
One lurched out of the stolid pack raising a sword above his head. Cur swung his odd shaped chopper under him fast and light and delivered a deep gaping hungry dull chop across his gut. The sound it made like an oar cutting through a wave sent shivers through the hecklers and tossed their bellies. The elf doubled over heaving, a ghastly wheezing sound coming out of his side.
The woman in the grouse feather cap lunged at him with a pitchfork pinning the Firbolg against the daub wall, he smiled at her with blood in his teeth. Cur snapped the haft with one powerful strike and with another he split her down the middle.
The other peasants dropped everything they had and ran at the sight of her bisected body.
“What is this?”
Cur turned to the entrance and saw two heavily armored dwarves with long pikes and iron shields ready to greet him. He pulled the pitch fork head out of his guts and dropped it.
“You’ll come with us now!” They ordered.
The Firbolg threw his javelin head sword into a table. He stooped with a mocking grin and put out his one hand for them to shackle.
“Did I do something wrong?”
The one that shackled him walked him out in front of the round house; the other went inside to retrieve his strange weapon. Admiring it quizzically.
They walked him through the tiny village. Consisting of a smattering of stone and clay round houses surrounded by a thatched branch fence next to the Dobber river. The large round hut was communal and the smaller ones were where the families lived. The biggest round house at the fair side of the fence was where the chieftain of Tallaght lived and held court.
Around the village the trees and hills were a deep emerald and sparkled with dew as the sun on occasion broke through the dense grey clouds. The wind and the rain a constant steady and gentle metronome.
Cur smirked at a woman feeding pigs knee deep in shit. She looked up at him with abstract horror in her face. They walked him on towards the large round house, his wicked mad laughter carrying over the trees as he went.