Three days and nights the Firbolg and Tuatha De’ met on the field of battle at Moyturra. And each day despite the mental state and lack of sleep of the Firbolg it ended in defeat after crushing defeat for the Tuatha De’. Their weapons were light and beautiful but could not compete with the savagery of the men of the soil. Even exhausted as they were they fought with the brutality they’d known all their lives and the mighty weapons they’d crafted. The Tuathe were defeated as if the earth itself rose up and swallowed them.
“We can’t keep this up much longer” The druid Caserd croaked. “Can’t you see, the losses are too great.” He whispered harshly in the dim light of the high king’s yurt.
“We’re victorious” The high king said as he rapped his knuckles against the hard arm rest of his chair.
“I don’t like it, the spirits don’t like it, there’s something wrong. Each day we decimate them but their numbers don’t decrease. We vanquish our foes and they come back each day renewed, these are not ordinary men my king.”
“So I must make a truce with these usurpers, give them half of all we’ve built to avoid more death? This land is built on blood, this soil is damp with it.” Eochid hissed.
“That’s why they want it, there’s dark magic at work here I’m sure of it” Caserd whispered.
“My king” A guard shouted from beyond the yurt.
“What is it?”
“There’s an old goat herder who says he has news of the Tuatha de’ invasion, he says it’s important.”
“A goat herder?” Eoichid sighed tilting his head towards Caserd.
“What harm could there be?” The druid shrugged.
“I’ll hear your goat herder.” He said waving his large hand.
A moment passed and a slow shuffling could be heard outside of the tent. An elderly man entered draped head to toe in a long lambs wool cloak of grey and white. His beard shared the same color and was so long he threw it over his shoulder.
The man was very old and his movements were slow and measured. His face wrinkled with sagging jowl but not lacking in color. And his eyes retained a spark of youthful mirth as he smiled deferentially at the king attempting to bow his already bent back. Resting on a gnarled shalagh cane.
“Greetings high king, I be Fint-“
“There’s no need for formal introductions goods sir, tell me of your misadventures.”
“Sir what I have to say may shock you.”
“Well there’s no point waiting on ceremony.”
“The other day I was taking my goats out to the hill to pluck the crags of weeds and grass there. They like it up high ya see, climbing up there, the grass must taste better near those old stones. The portal stones they’re called.”
Eoichid watched wearily the old man through his fingers as he rested his head in his hand.
The old man licked his lips and looked for some signal for him to go on and when none came he went on anyway. “Well while I was up there wouldn’t ya know I couldn’t see into their camp or nothing. They did a good job placing it out of sight but I did see- it was after the battle.”
“You watched the battle?”
“Oh no sir, I’ve seen enough blood in my time.” The old man gave a knowing smirk. “No I saw what was after when they was picking up their dead, not one left there to rot. They gathered them all up and I thought it was to bury them, you know. Mightn’t it be their custom to bury them on the day of death I thought, but no.”
The old man became contemplative, his eyes narrowing and brows creasing into too many folds to count as he scratched his gristled chin. “There was this funny lookin’ fella with a big nose and pointy ears and glasses on.” The old man gesticulated all the man’s features one by one. “And he was ordering the men that was still living to take the bodies of the dead and dying. And to put them in the spring that runs off the Loch Arbhach, great for fishing.”
Again he paused and looked for some signal to continue which didn’t come. “Anyway they put them bodies in the spring and the long nose fella he sprinkles some magic dust in the water.” With his wizened hand he emulated the motion of sprinkling the dust. “I dunno. He says some magic words spins around and they walked alive again.” He pointed with his cane and took to a harsh whisper “I swear by the gods there wasn’t a scratch on them, they just walked out like they were taking a dip.”
“It’s as I feared.” Caserd sighed.
“You believe this?” Eoichid asked with a cool simmering rage.
“There magic surpasses our own greatly and they’ve tricked us.” Caserd deflated, bowing his head.
Eoichid bit the inside of his cheek and said nothing.
Caserd looked at his high king with lidded eyes and raised his hands emphatically. “Don’t you see, they’ve been wearing us down, they’ve been beating us in victory, tiring our men, whittling them off slowly. Everyday our losses are massive and they lose none, this can’t go on, we’ve already lost too much, what will you do high king?”
Eoichid rose from his seat stoic. With a savage cutting energy he crossed the room and clutched his Javelin in his two strong hands squeezing it. Listening to the noise of it creaking in his monstrous leathery hands.
“I will go.”
The men of the bag lined up on Moytura outside the Tuatha de’ stronghold. In front of their palisade wall they beat their shields in time casting a deadly rhythm. The sound; like bone on bone clattering, the impeding march of skeletons claiming flesh as their own.
“HERE I AM! THE BLOOD OF KINGS RUNS THROUGH MY VEINS! NO MAN CAN BE MY EQUAL!” Eochid bellowed at the top of his lungs, his high shield at his side and his javelin at his other. His armor consisting of hardened plates of black leather and bleached bone. His helmet fashioned from a fearsome rams skull, it’s horns protruding upward. “NUADA, I AM THE MASTER OF YOUR DESTINY!”
The beating of the shields came again like a wave of crashing thunder building to a cacophony.
“GIVE ME YOUR KING, LET ME SQUEEZE HIM IN MY HANDS!” Eoichid bellowed gripping his javelin and shield tightly in his balled fists.
The palisade wall moved and Nuada and his men met them.
“Let me go” Ogma whispered wishing to take his place in the challenge.
“No- I CHALLENGE THE MIGHTIEST CHAMPION OF THE FIRBOLG, SRENG OF TARA!” Bres called out smirking.
There was a silence in the crowd and Eoichid boiled with rage. He squeezed his javelin so tightly he could feel its fibres splintering, his face turning into a stone gargoyle mask.
“IS HE TOO COWARD TO FACE ME?” Bres mocked.
“It is I you face” Eoichid spat coldly.
“I will face you” Nuada said. A squire lowered a beautiful silver helmet shaped as an eagles head over his long silver hair. It’s ornate white gold fittings glinted in the dull morning gloom.
Nuada walked forward, nobly drawing his flaming sword and shining round mirror shield, weapons given to him by the god Danu herself. His golden eyes cool and calm, serene as water.
Eochid legs pumped like bull pistons getting faster like a falling boulder. Pounding at the hill like a hammer, shaking the earth in time with the beats of the shield, getting faster and faster, a wild animal let loose.
Nuada caught the sun with his shield and shone it in Eoichid’s eyes, but that would not stop him.
The high king of the Firbolg screamed and his lungs filled with hot hatred and his veins bulged in his neck. He tossed his mighty shield like a discus and tossed his ram skull helmet off of his head revealing a main of dark black knotted hair.
Clutching tightly in his powerful arms his javelin in both hands he charged at Nuada.
Nuada raised his shield, his flaming sword high over his head to strike with the power of the gods themselves. But he miscalculated Eoichid’s speed and and bestial furosity.
The mighty high king of the Firbolg rammed the king of the Tuathe de’ with the power of a bull. A bone rattling tackle hitting Nuada’s shield and bouncing him hard into the ground of Moyturra softened with the blood of the fallen Firbolg. His helmet flew off and his white gold hair spilled out on the ground.
Eoichid raised his javelin with both hands.
Nuada raised his shield again and tried to find his sword, but it did not matter. The powerful cutting blade of the javelin came down with the force of a stone falling from the heavens. With a single blow struck Nuada’s magic shield in half and took Nuada’s arm with it.
Nuada lay, mamed, his golden eyes wide and gaping at his severed arm twitching in the bloody earth, the ground sodden with his own white blood.
Eoichid roared again and turned in triumph.
“I AM THE ONE, THE ONLY ONE, I AM THE GOD OF KINGDOM COME!” He shouted at the top of his lungs bearing his teeth, his words reverberating through the lush hills, written on every stone and column. The poet, Fathach of the Firbolg on his hill watching; writing it all down feverishly on a scroll of lambskin.
Eoichid turned to finish Nuada, his javelin held high, his face burning with primal fury, his body out of time and destiny hard and deadly.
Nuada crawled back like a downed insect choking on his own blood, he prayed to Danu, he begged her for his life.
And she answered.
“Treoraíonn solas Danu dom” Nuada mewled and coughed. A flash of flame burst from his remaining hand and struck Eoichid in the face with the magical embers.
Eoichid’s throat seized up instantly, and his eyes became dark and clouded. A thirst like no other he’d ever known had hold of him and he cried out for water but no words formed on his lips.
Ogma and Dian quickly swept up the downed king Nuada like a babe in arms and Eoichid king of the Firbolg’s men helped him astride his dappled grey horse. He rode feverishly in search of water but the three druiddesses of the Morrigu hid all the waters of Inish Alga from his eyes. Without sight Eoichid has no choice but to follow the sounds of waves instead.
He chased with a sum of his men to the sea. On the beach he landed drawn by the song of the chopping waves. But he was not alone.
Bres with a hundred warriors had followed them to the beach, the stone grey sky at their backs, the clouds building black and bulging forth.
Cornered the Firbolf had their backs against the crashing dark waves blackening with the clouds above. Eochid gnashed his teeth and took gobs of the vile sea water into his mouth and spat it out.
“COME! COME TO YOUR DEATH!” Eoichid cried, his terrible voice thundering now hoarse and dry and burnt.
Bres lifted his hand and let it fall lithe at his side signalling his men to charge from astride his white horse.
The Tuatha de men charged the beach, the dirty brown sand hovering in the air with their many footfalls. The Firbolg despite being out outnumbered, they had one advantage. For the Tuatha had made one vital mistake.
They had left their enemy no way of retreat.
The Firbolg fought like savage cornered animals, more savage than ever before. They chopped and gouged their enemies, tearing them limb from limb until the waters of the sea frothed with their white blood and was as milk to them.
Bres watched from the hill with a tight jaw as his men lay slaughtered before him.
The blind in one eye Eoichid, took a shield from a Tuathan like taking a toy from a child and crushed his skull with it.
“TAKE THEIR HEADS!” He cried in his now scarred harsh hissing voice.
A tuathan warrior surprised him in his blind spot and swooped down with a heavy cudgel. Eoichid reacted on instinct alone and brought the haft of his lance up to block the strike. The pole pf his lance shattering under the mighty blow.
Eoichid without pause or countenance stabbed the warrior in the throat with one end of the broken pole. With the remaining head of the spear he chopped savagely at the invader’s neck until his eyes were full of his white blood.
When it was done, the beach was a grave yard. Bres and his remaining men had retreated.
The Firbolg, shattered and near death, cried out in victory, but the day was not theirs. Something unfathomable and inhuman had conspired against them.
The sky turned black and slowly building a cacophony of sound blotted out their cries of victory.
All at once they became still and silent like prey and they looked about them blinkered as if in a dream. Their minds reeling for some sense. They closed and opening their eyes expecting to see the sun but seeing nothing but what seemed like a thick cloak covering the sky and the horizon. The entire beach trapped in a malevolent bubble with all sensory information deprived.
“What’s going on?”
“What is this?”
“Are we dead?”
The Firbolg cried out.
“That sound” Eoichid whispered.
“CROWS!” Another shouted.
The sound of thousands of crows flying as if falling over themselves in the sky. They formed unnatural shapes and formations swooped through the remaining Firbolg. They moved almost like water but directed by an unseen hand reaching out and tearing men to shreds with their beaks and razor sharp talons.
They screamed but no one could hear them, crows pecking out their eyes and tongues before they could make utterance or see to swing a blade. Thousands of hungry vicious beaks tore men apart like soft warm bread dipped in wine.
A column of the vile creatures sweeping as if a living scythe cutting ten men down in a single blow, and scattering their bones.
“My king, we must a-“
Eochid was lost for a moment. He looked up at the man pulling at his arm and saw him stopped standing. His eyes rolling in the back of his head, a fetid beak poking out of his mouth and ripping through the back of his skull.
Only screams now, Eoichid glanced back and forth at the crows circling. They picked off his countrymen one by one in ways no creature should suffer and he thought he must be dreaming. He stumbled and fell over a corpse it’s face he recognized, only half of which remained. The rest poked through and eaten like an overripe pumpkin.
A spray of hot red blood on his face, the taste of copper. The high king rose as if from a drunken stupor, his breath burning in his lungs, cold and harsh he could feel his skin crying out, stinging static potential.
He staggered to his feet, chest heaving painfully. He could feel all his bones moving, cold seeping in, the sky getting darker and shifting like the surface of water.
He roared “I AM EOICHID MAC ERC! THE BLOOD OF KINGS RUNS THROUGH MY VEINS, I AM THE ON-!“ A swarm of crows engulfed him one flying into his mouth trying to eat his tongue. Eoichid caught it by the tail and bit it in half with one bite spitting out it’s head and hacking through the swarm of crows with the end of his lance.
He fell to his knees, bleeding from wounds covering the whole surface of his body, weeping red blood mixing with the white of the Tuatha de’. Blood pouring into his eyes, he spat more chunks of crow into the sand. The king looked off over the surface of the water, the waves rising violently, as black as the night’s sky. The crows swirling and taking shape above it.
“DEAD MEN HAVE NO NAMES” A woman’s voice echoed calm but rolling on the clouds like thunder.
Eoichid looked up gouging the blood from his eye and saw the shape of a maiden in the sky, one hundred feet tall, her body made of a mass of undulating crows. The sky bowing to her, the sea breaking before her, her feet above the waves.
Eoichid had no idea what he was looking at, he only knew he should be afraid, but he was not.
A cool rage had taken him, steeped in the bodies of his comrades and kin. The high king’s blood simmered, he readied himself to tear down hell, to bite a hole in the sky, to kill and keep killing riding a tidal wave of blood.
“THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE AND IT SHALL HAPPEN AGAIN” The voice echoed.
Eoichid gritted his teeth and squeezed the broken shaft of his spear until his hand bled for the splinters. The king cried out to all the gods and goddesses be damned.
“YOU MAY DIE” The voice said.
The crow maiden lifted her hand slowly and let loose with a dishevelled laughter. Her arm disintegrated into crows and flowed forth in a torrent of feral beaks and claws and feathers and blood.
Eoichid could do naught but watch as the maelstrom vomited forth as fast as a rampaging bull.
He got one foot under him and then the next shortly after, his heart tearing from his chest, his blood coursing like molten iron in a forge.
He crossed himself with his good arm. The spear tip clenched in his palm shielding his face. The high cried out one last time before the crushing torrent of crows fell upon him with the force of a falling star, sundering him beneath them.