Love thine enemy
Many years ago when the land was known as Inish Alga, the noble isle.
The goddess Tailtui kissed him and her lips were as sweet and as sour as the first blackberry of spring. Her body was as firm and as warm as a log on the fire in front of which they made love. Her body crashing against his like a falling tree she kissed him again with an intense urgency. Looking into his eyes she whispered a blessing and a curse “As long as I love you, you shall never die.”
The fire blew out and cloaked the room in inky blackness. A deep silence and a rattling scratching noise came from the fireplace.
“What is it Eoichid?” A silken voice asked.
Eoichid pushed her off of his large frame and strode towards the fire place. He stoked the embers stabbing at them with a poker his naked broad back to his woman. He could hear the scratching more clearly. It was a skittering noise in the chimney.
“Just a bird trapped in the chimney” He stated his voice flat and stern as his jawline.
Then all of a sudden a thunderous crash and a great black bird hit the embers scattering sparks and hot ash in an explosion of chaotic furry. The bird cawed and sqwarked and flew about the room. Eoichid’s ears pricked as he finally noticed a dull metronome of flapping wings and cawing. He went to the window and the sky was black with their fetid wings. Their vile bulbous black bodies blotted out the sun as they flew as if shoulder to shoulder.
Eoichid woke in a sweat, he turned to look at his wife Tailtiu still sleeping, her nose wrinkled as if she smelled something loathesome. Her auburn hair like a bed of autumn leaves. Her face was pale and lovely like freshly fallen snow. Her features that of a faun, or nymph, a slightly upturned nose, light pouted lips and speckled cheeks.
He got out from under the furs of their bed and put on a robe. He fumbled out of his bed chambers without waking the goddess and took a lit torch from a sconce in the hall. He walked down the circular stone steps into the druid’s quarters.
The druid’s quarters were dank and dusty. The smell of booze and bone dust covered by the sweet scents of lavender and thyme permeated the tapestries on the walls.
The room was dark but the outlines of skulls and books and dirty bowls could be seen amassed on the many counter tops and spilling from reliquaries. The piled stone walls were covered in a thick layer of dust.
“Caserd! Caserd! are you awake you old fool?” Eochid lit up the old druid’s face with the firelight.
The old man spoke without moving his eyes. His face potmarked and covered with an ashen beard. “I’m always awake my lord high king.” He opened just one eye in his wizened face “Is it bad dreams sire?”
Eoichid stood motionless at the foot of his bed, the torch held low. “I need you to read the bones again”
“As you wish my king” The old druid climbed out of his bed in his night robes and cap and by the light of the King’s torch he placed a candle on the ground. Next to it, a cup of water and another cup in which he poured alcohol.
He sat with his legs bony crossed on the stone floor and took a deep breath closing his eyes and then dropped a single piece of silver into the bowl of water.
“The bounty of the deep” The old man whispered hoarsely.
He clapped his hands and the candle lit. “The rising of the light”
He dipped his finger in the water and touched his forehead.
The druid gazed at the flame and cleared his throat “Between fire and water, I find my balance”.
He then lifted the cup with the alcohol in it. “I drink to the holy powers of the world- I drink to the ancestors – I drink to the land spirits – I drink to the shining goddesses and gods – To all the beings in all the worlds – In land sea and sky below and on high – I drink this cup of fellowship.” The old druid then threw the liquid to the back of his throat instantly causing a fit of coughing.
When the coughing fit subsided he took a swig from the jug from whence he poured it and cleared his throat again. He scrunched up his face and taking a handful of bones he threw them into a pewter dish.
He moved them around a little and squinted at them and then moved them around again. He looked puzzled for a moment and turned back to his stone jug and took another long pull resulting in the same amount of coughing as before.
“Spit it out” Eoichid erupted impatiently.
“Black wings” The old man sputtered. “I see a sky covered in a blanket of black wings”.
The next morning Eoichid looked out on the balcony of his chambers. He watched as slow creeping mist covered the mountains of Sliabh an Iarainn to the west. Looking out at them from his capital of Tailtin, named for his wife and goddess.
The mist remained for three days and three nights and the high king watched it with cool trepidation. Until the third it cleared but in its place a mighty ship crewed by shining people stood on the mountain.
They slowly advanced westward toward the sea of Ulster. A messenger was sent forth from both tribes.
Sreng the mightiest champion of the Firbolg, rode his black horse up the hill carrying the shovel headed javelin of the Firbolg. A long rounded shield on his back and an iron club on his belt to parlay with the outsiders. On his shield was the crest of Connacht, the sword arm and black bird. He wore a multicoloured patchwork cloak and a heavy hide jerkin. He was large and broad shouldered with a weathered face and long black beard and hair.
The shining one stood on the hill, he was small but fair of face with long golden hair with no beard and carried a sharp thin spear.
The sky was dark slate grey, a light mist covered the ground and a strong wind blew them both and speckled rain. The green hills stretching on forever, sheep in the fields grazing calmly, a squat crow sat on a high stone next to the hill sqwarking to itself.
From the hill Sreng could see the mighty capital Tailtin. Hundreds of smoke stack round houses surrounded by a huge wall of timber and the fort that was the high king’s keep towering at the top of it.
The shining one spoke and his voice was like honied water, calming but firm and constant, delicate but sure. “I am Bres the beautiful of the Tuatha De’ and I offer you glad tidings, brother.”
Sreng stopped at the bottom of the hill to look at the stranger. His skin was pale almost silver and translucent in color, his features sharp and his ears slightly pointed at the top. He wore a light and loose tunic with his arms and chest exposed revealing strange blue markings which seemed to glow when the light hit them.
His eyes too were strange, they were a bright amber color. There was a moment before Sreng decided to speak.
“I am Sreng of the Firbolg”. He bellowed, his eyes lidded and searching.
“So we share the same tongue – cousins perhaps?” Bres smiled jovially and carelessly.
Sreng stared trying to hide hide amazement for a moment in silence.
“My people talk of our ancient predecessors walking this, our ancestral home, is it that I look at a ghost of our past?” Bres jested with a mocking smile.
“I am no ghost” Sreng said as he continued to study the stranger’s weapons as he’d never seen anything like it before.
They looked strong and deadly sharp but were thinner than any weapon he’d seen. He could barely fathom how something as thin as a goose feather could be a weapon at all.
“You like my spear? Here, take it if you like.” Bres tossed the spear sideways and it floated through the air weightlessly. Sreng caught it in his huge hand and his eyes widened as he took it in and felt that it had almost no weight. He gawped at it in amazement as he ran his finger over the fine point and sharp edge and saw blood. He sucked his finger and looked up at Bres.
“You can keep it, we have many more” He grinned. “I wouldn’t mind taking a look at that one on your back.”
Sreng thought for a moment before deciding it was only chivalrous to do the same. He slid his javelin out of the doe skin and tossed it at Bres as one would a log onto a fire.
Bres caught it in one hand and swung it about himself as if he’d handled it a thousand times before. Cutting through the air with the savage recurved blade and stabbing the air with the rounded shovel point looking down the hefty haft.
“A good weight to it” He said as he jostled it playfully. “How do you get this metal to behave?”
“Our forging techniques are a guarded secret.” Sreng said gruffly.
“Why is it you’ve come?” Sreng asked.
“Oh didn’t I say already?” Bres licked his lips and grinned. “We’re home”
“What is it your people want, be clear so I may return to my king.” Sreng said curtly, letting some irritation slip into his voice.
Bres pursed his lips and tapped his fingers along the haft of the rugged javelin.
“Half?” Sreng spat.
“Half the island” Bres smiled playfully but he was not joking.
“You wish me to relay this to my king, High king Eoichid Mac Erc? That you want half of all that is his?” Sreng said almost dumbstruck by this boldfaced arrogance.
“I can do it myself” The voice came from close behind Sreng.
Sreng blinked and saw the shining man on the hill was gone and next to him stood a reflection of himself staring back at him carrying his own javelin. In an instant the javelin came down and cleaved Sreng’s mighty head from his shoulders. His head had rolled halfway down the hill before his body fell.
“Babd, did that please you?”
The crow shone and changed into the form of an elven woman wearing a deep red silken dress, her lips two were kissed as such.
“Yes my lord”. She cooed.
“Take the spear and the body back to Nuada, Dian Cecht will most likely want to study both.”
“Yes my lord”.
“Half!? HALF!?” Eoichid shouted his voice booming around the stone walls of his audience chamber. His face youthful and handsome as it was, twisted by rage and in his eyes a battle tested ugliness dwelt. “They come into my land, the land we fought and bled for. The land we built from nothing with our own hands, the very soil carried on our backs from that cursed land that slaved us and he wants HALF!?” The veins on his neck stood out like the branches of a tree and so to the scars on his face were licked by torchlight.
Sreng knelt before him, his eyes fixed on a spot on the floor as Eoichid paced back and forth.
“Never” Eoichid whispered. “NEVER!” He bellowed. “If we give them half this day they’ll take all from under our noses tomorrow.” Eoichid walked over to his throne, which was a simple chair made of ash with a gold leaf trim and the coat of arms relief. The slim beautiful spear of the Tuatha de’ draped across its arm rests. He snatched it up off his chair “And what is this? A chariot ornament, a giant whore’s hairpin” He said as he snapped the clean wooden haft over his knee and threw the two pieces into the fire.
The high king calmed himself and addressed his champion. “Sreng, you will ride out at first light and ask them what field of battle they wish to die on. We’ll meet them with shovel or pick or fork if they like but they will never have this land.”
Sreng nodded and didn’t say another word.
Night fell on Tailtin near Tara, Bres wearing Sreng’s face whispered into his sleeve before bending close to the ground.
“Nemain, Macha, make your lord proud”
Two mice crept from his sleeve and ran through the streets of the town becoming like mist in the shape of two elven maidens. One wearing white and one wearing black.
Like a felled tree again she fell on him, her kisses as sweet and as sour as the first blackberry of spring. Their warm bodies tightly clung to each other, her kiss as soft as dew pressing a leaf. Her touch yet beastial and wanting. Her skin fair and fresh as baked dough, her eyes green as emerald pools. Hair as red as autumn leaves, the goddess Tailtui was harvest personified and her bounty was for Eoichid alone.
“Eoichid, speak to me” she whispered.
The king sat at the end of the bed naked, sweat beading off his broad back.
Tailtiu went to him, draping her naked body over his wide shoulders, he threw her off of him and back onto the bed.
“Leave me.” He said coldly.
“Eoichid, son of Erc, son of Rinnal of the Firbolg. The mightiest king of this land. Conquerer of men and beast.” Her words were cutting but melodious, like a song or a whistling wind through the trees. “He who crushed Fodbgen the despoiler under his boot and saw peace and justice finally ruling where chaos sat. Now he pouts at the foot of his bed like a child.”
Eochid said nothing.
She got close to him but did not touch, she whispered in his ear. “Worry not my champion, you will not die as long as I love you”
Eoichid turned sharply to look at her. “What did you say?”
“My king! You need to come quickly!” The voice of his guard called through the door.
He opened the door a crack “What is it?”
“The balcony my king”
Eoichid closed his door and walked over to his balcony, it was raining.
He put his hand out to catch some and it was a deep red.
“Blood” He said as he moved it between his finger and thumb.
The skies were bruised and billowed forth black clouds that looked like a thousand crows wings.
Fire and blood rained from the skies for three days and three nights. And for three days and three nights no one in the kingdom of Connacht could sleep or dream without waking in terror.
Dian Cecht the healer and scholar of the Tuatha De’ rubbed the front of his balding head and then scratched his grey goatee. Then plucked at his long pointed nose then at his long pointed ears as he studied the javelin of the Firbolg.
Finally he tutted and then exhaled “I just can’t fathom how such a barbarian race could create metal such as this. It holds an edge indefinitely, it’s heavy and hard, almost indestructible. I’ll need more time to study it. I can’t find anything that’ll scratch the surface, no acid solution has any effect and Tuireann the smith can’t get a furnace hot enough to try and reforge it.” He pinched his fat cracked lips and rolled up the sleeves of his brown monks robes “Astonishing.”
“Yes fascinating” Nuada said.
“Oh I’m sorry my king, you must want to know of the body.”
King Nuada of the Tuatha de’ was unusually tall for his race, a pure bred Tuatha de with milky white skin and hair. His features that of a boy in his early twenties, but the wise measured speech of someone hundreds of years older. “Indeed”
“This way my king” Dian Cecht put on a set of magnifying spectacles and adjusted them. He pulled back a woollen sheet from the body of Sreng the once mighty champion of the Firbolg.
“As you can see I reattached the head, but their physiognomy is not much different from our own. Despite their size and so far using magic on it has proved to have little to no affect, their matter seems to have no affinity for it.” He said it almost sadly as he looked over the clean dry dead flesh.
“He is dead Dian.” Nuada raised his arm lifting a long a pleated robe of white satin and white gold to probe the head of the dead giant with a long lithe finger.
“Yes but even a Tuatha de’ corpse is more reactive to magical stimuli than this thing.” Dian spat.
“I thought I warned you off the experimentation of corpses” Nuada regarded the old healer with a weary glance.
“Well I won’t know any more until I set up a full lab, these surroundings are not entirely adequate.” Dian said motioning to the temporary medical tent he was stationed in, the walls made of a stretched lambs skin.
“You change the subject deftly Dian.” Nuada sighed. “I have no energy to press it further, if you have anything new, come to me” He lifted the flap of the tent and exited.
“My king, the messenger returns” A page yelped.
“Let him in.” Nuada waved his hand.
The Tuatha de’ had set up a forward encampment. It consisted of around forty tents and a small forest’s worth of palisades surrounding them. Their soldiers wore almost nothing in comparison to the Firbolg. Most with exposed chest and arms covered lightly in metal that looked and moved as if it were cloth.
Spears parted and Sreng climbed up the slight incline to the main war tent.
Sreng smiled and as he did so his disguise melted like water or glass shattering and Bres in his place stood.
“It’s war” Bres stated calmly, collecting water in his hand from a silvery drum.
Nuada nodded sadly and sighed deeply. “So be it, Ogma!”
“Yes my king” A deep voice rang from behind him. The largest Tuathan, the champion of the Tuatha de’ fully clad from head to toe in an armor modeled as if on a shining silver sea monster stepped forward. His face covered in a wicked grotesque smiling metal death mask. A vicious spiked mace on his hip and spiked shield on his back.
“We’ll retreat westward, I believe the battle will favor us there, what say you champion?”
“I say I’ll meet any man on any ground with you at my side my king. I will follow you under the crushing sea to fight Domnu himself.”
Nuada smiled sadly and nodded. “So be it.”
“My King, they moved west as you said they would” The scout said.
“They draw up their line in front of the pass of Balged for an easy retreat. What say you Cassird, should I allow them the luxury of escape?” Eochid said scratching his large square chin as he sat leaning forward.
“A wise man always allows his enemies a passage of escape my lord, for a man with his back against a wall will fight with the fury of a cornered animal”. Cassird mused as he stroked his grey beard, resting on a gnarled staff dressed in a multicoloured robe.
“My honor dictates so” Eochid recited.
“Honor indeed.” The old man scoffed. “We fight gods from the sky and you think of honor”
“What are we without it?” He said turning his eyes to the sage.
“We are but men my king” The druid sighed.
“What of Sreng? Has he returned?” Eochid asked the scout.
“No sire, he’s still absent, the movement of the Tuatha De’ come from our scouts alone.”
Eoichid leaned back on the high backed wooden chair in his temporary yurt made from the hide of a bull stretched over hewn logs. The high king had it erected on a hill on the outskirts of Moytura looking out at the sea.
“They put their backs to the sea, we will push them back into it.” Eoichid mused
A rattling clanking noise erred them and a weary looking young scout poked his javelin through the tent and entered out of breath.
“My king, they send their envoy.” He sputtered.
“Let him come.” Eoichid shouted.
A moment later Bres entered the tent. He was shirtless and bold and covered in the strange blue markings, his skin shimmering almost like the scales of a fish.
“Good health to you high king of the Firbolg, I am Bres Eoichaid of the Tuatha De’.” His manner light and mocking like that of a jester or clown.
“You come to talk terms of battle, well get on with it.” Eoichid said resting his chin on his fist, shrewdly studying the alien man that had entered his yurt.
Bres smirked insolently and tossed his long gold hair off his bare shoulder. “We seek truce fair king.”
“No truce.” Eoichid stated coldly, his eyes unwavering.
“Very well, then we beseech you, we need more time. Your arms surpass our own we desire time to match them. Surely your honor necessitates such equality of strength” Bres tittered.
Eoichid chewed the inside of his cheek “You have to the end of the day to meet us on the field of battle at Moytura.” His tone curt and unmoved by the strangers flippancy.
“That should be more than enough time to sharpen our swords and polish our shields and helmets.” He smirked. “But we would ask a favor as we are at the disadvantage honourable king”
“Ask” Eoichid growled through clenched teeth.
“Your soldiers are brave and strong this is true. Easily a match for the Tuatha de’” He said mockingly staring at the wizened druid Cassird. Cassird regarded him as if a strange had flown in the tent and learned to talk. “but we are outnumbered ten to one. Would it not be just to set our numbers so we may have a fair battle?”
“You wish to test our strength? So be it, we shall set our numbers at nine times one hundred.” Eoichid stated.
“Thank you honorable king, may the gods smile and keep you.” He bowed almost as if he was on a stage with that arrogant smile. “I bid you good day and wish you luck fair king.” Bres bowed and with a small wicked smile he wafted through the opening in the tent.
Tailtiu traced her hand playfully along back of his chair, making herself known at last. “They’re toying with you, with our strength and numbers we could crush them and throw them back into the sea, they tie your hands out of honor and you let them.” She whispered as if only he could hear her.
Eoichid breathed in deeply “They’re scared, they want to know who’s stronger, I’ll show them”.