Filaments of light that illuminated the morning’s sky died as three boats hit the ground. Gritty. Soft. And as they beached themselves, the skiffs met resistance, as pebble-strewn sand formed an embankment, mirroring the double ringworks of the settlement, which was just visible from the coast. These rings of sand encircled each salt tainted hull, like bronze Torques that garlanded the men inside the lime wood vessels.
Landing into the shallows the men waded to pull their boats further up the beach, their tight fitted trousers: a mixture of green and brown wool and their similar coloured long tunics stuck to their skin, like treet sap: sticky and uncomfortable.
With practiced ease the foreigners quickly secured their mooring. There was a grimness to their expressions that told of a tragedy that had already struck the convoy, for there had once been four boats that had set out from across the sea, Now, only three were left, positioned like a wooden palisade along the waterline.
A storm born from the capricious gods had wrecked one of their skiffs and, had followed the foreigners and once the great beast had tasted their blood, had hunted the remaining three in a frenzy: eventually once the foreigners had made landfall, the beast had ripped the smoky clouds that hung, like a comfortable blanket over the peninsula into shreds and, in a fit of rage transformed into a black maw that threatened to swallow the satellite communities that eked out a living upon coast.
Traherne watched from a slope overlooking the beach. He had lain down, hidden in the undergrowth on seeing the boats hit the beach and he saw the foreigners embark, dragging their skiffs to higher ground. Nine men in all had set foot on the damp sand. Two who were undoubtedly of rank, barking out commands, their iron short swords sheathed in sheepskin slapping against their legs. Traherne had only seen an iron sword once. It was the precious possession of the Head Kin. Supposedly, it was the legendry star iron sword wielded by the hero of Meillionydd. He doubted it. Although it was still impressive, easily the most precious object in the whole settlement. He had held it once. He could barely lift it. Heavy. The blade was beautiful: the iron trailing down the sword like snakes writhing. Yet still deadly, for despite it age, it still held its edge, and Traherne remembered cutting his finger upon it.
He grimaced, as he stared at the nine men heading inland. Who were these people? Why had they come across the sea? He didn’t have time to answer these questions immediately, as the nine men were moving towards him, seemingly honing on his position. Without a second thought, Traherne got to his feet and made a run for it.
He didn’t make it very far. The men were faster and he was still growing, making him awkward in movement. Traherne felt rough hands drag him backwards, and smelt smoked haddock from a man’s breath, as he held him under his vice-like arm.
Traherne held his breath, trying to not choke, more from the stench than the arm squeezing his neck. He heard voices around him, as if arguing.
‘That’s enough Egaón! You’ll choke the boy to death.’
Traherne felt the arm stiffen and was dragged to face the speaker, not that he could see anything. And it wasn’t long before he was becoming light headed and, his vision clouded as the arm clenched tighter.
‘I don’t take order from you, Corraidhín!’
Despite the dizziness, Traherne heard a third voice that was hard as iron being hammered into shape.
‘Put him down!’
Suddenly Traherne was free of the haddock breathed man and he turned to see that same man on the ground behind him, clutching his head.
‘Lairgnen! Eoghann! Look after that idiot. Tadhg, go and scout ahead!’
Traherne heard the man named Nuallán command the trio, as if he was Head Kin or something similar. It was raid. It had to be. He needed to get away from them, to warn his Kin. And so, now that his vision had come back and his breath had returned to his breast, Traherne edged away from the eight remaining foreigners and made a run for it.
Traherne felt his arm being grabbed, much tighter than the haddock breathed man who had near chocked him earlier, but unlike that same man – there was no viciousness in the action. It was just commanding.
‘Where do you think you are going, boy?’
Traherne looked at the tall man, who was like a tree trunk without foliage. This was the one who had first told Egaón to let go of him. His name was something like Corrhín, although he wasn’t sure.
‘Get off me!
Traherne spat the man holding him.
‘You get me Corrhín or what ever your name is, I won’t tell you a thing,
He had no idea why he used the man name in his act of defiance. It was strange. He couldn’t explain it.
Laughter rolled around the cliff top that overlooked the beach. If anything, Traherne had not expected to man to laugh. Hit him perhaps, or strike him with a weapon of some sort, but not to laugh.
‘You’re almost right,’ said the man pushing Traherne to a sitting position, ‘It’s Corraidhín. So, what’s yours?
Traherne now emboldened just glared at Corraidhín.
‘Stop being nice, Corraidhín! Ask the questions!’
Traherne felt cold sweat at the leaders words. And he looked at the now granite like eyes of Corraidhín before him.
‘Where are we?’
The grip on his arm flexed and Traherne felt a jolt of pain through his shoulder.
‘Wrong answer! Where are we?’
Fear engulfed Traherne and, he couldn’t but help answer without thought of the consequences.
‘The peninsula, not far from Meillionydd.’
Traherne felt the hand upon his arm lesson and heard an audible sigh of relief from the eight foreigners that surround him.
It had been some time since Corraidhín had asked him questions concerning him and Traherne now waited quietly as Nuallán and Corraidhín conferred in hushed tones. He could hear snippets of the conversation, and was able to glean a few things about his circumstances.
The two men broke away from each other and Nuallán, his eyes cold bowed towards him.
‘You have our apology. Of course a Blood-Price will be paid. It was Traherne, wasn’t it?’
Traherne nodded his head at Nuallán’s words. Not really understanding. His mind was trying to keep up with the day’s events. One moment he was running for his life, choked, questioned and then offered payment for the experience. Wasn’t Blood-Price different to this? Traherne had thought the Blood-Price was only in repayment of death or serious injury. Of course, it wasn’t a common thing, however it happened on occasion. Perhaps these foreigners had a different kind of Blood-price.
Traherne watched as Nuallán turned to Corraidhín.
‘We’ll wait for Tadhg before leaving.’
Traherne didn’t hear Corraidhín answer, but saw Nuallán’s lips thin, as the both looked at Eogan. Traherne followed their gaze and Eogan returned it with malice. Traherne shivered. He now knew that the nine foreigners were what were left of the envoy from across the water to treat with the Elders of Meillionydd. But that didn’t put him at ease, especially with the number of weapons that each man carried, and the baleful glares of Eogan.
Traherne looked up and, saw that Corraidhín had sat beside him his arm outstretched, offering something. Traherne took the horn vessel and stared at what could only be described as boiled water and nettles.
‘He won’t do anything,’ and Traherne saw that Corraidhín patted the iron short sword that was now in his lap.
Traherne took a sip of the steeped nettles. It was bitter but good.
‘A quiet one aren’t you, boy?’
Corraidhín laughed before continuing.
‘You want to hold it?’
Traherne looked puzzled and tipped his head in question.
‘Don’t be shy, Boy. Your eyes give you away. You can’t keep them off it.’
Traherne simply nodded his head. And he then almost split the now lukewarm liquid down his tunic as Corraidhín threw the sword into his lap. Traherne gingerly held the iron weapon that was still in its stiffened sheepskin sheath and heard Corraidhín laugh loud at him, like a bear roaring.
‘Go on, pull it out, and don’t be so shy.’
Traherne, his amber eyes full of wonder, pulled the blade from its shell. The iron was like silver. Shiny. Nothing like the dull bronze that everyone else had. And it was not the same as the sword of Star-Iron that the Head Kin treasured. There was no pattern writhing down the blade. The sword was unblemished in everyway.
‘Go on, get to your feet and have a few swings.’
And Traherne did. He stood up and felt the weight of the sword in his hand. It was heavy, like he was holding a full-grown man in one hand, not that he had every tried to do so, but it was what he imagined it would feel like. It was so much heavier that the bronze swords that warriors of his Kin had, although it was not as heavy as the Star-iron sword. He had to use both hands to keep it steady and then he swung from left to right and saw Corraidhín give a wistful smile and, as Traherne gazed past Corraidhín’s face, he spotted Eogan with his weapon raised.
Traherne threw himself towards Eogan, pulling the iron sword over his shoulder to block the attack. He felt a mighty wrench and felt the impact of Eogan’s bronze sword reverberate down his arm, his shoulder and into his legs. Even his ears were ringing. His hands were no longer able to hold the weapon and it fell to the ground as Eogan kicked him in the face.
Traherne could smell blood. He felt a sticky substance running down his face from a laceration above his eye and, as he touched his face and examined his right hand, he saw crimson upon it and then, with an unfocused gaze, he watched as Corraidhín in a heartbeat picked up the fallen sword and without hesitation, impale Eogan with it. Traherne then watched, in delayed horror, as Corraidhín then spat at the dead man before then turning around to speak.
Under the stream of crimson from the cut, Traherne stuttered broken syllables, trying to tell Corraidhín that there was nothing to thank. He hadn’t done much, other than perhaps get it the way. Traherne felt a rag wipe the blood and as sweet sticky substance was applied to the cut. He looked up to a smiling face of Corraidhín, who held up a leather container.
‘Honey. No warrior should do without it. Just hang on a second.’
Traherne waited, trying to calm himself and saw Corraidhín coming back with a Bronze sword. It was Eogan’s.
‘This is yours now. Come on. Get up.’
And Traherne had the bronze sword belted against his hip. He felt like he was in a dream, and soon he would wake up to his fathers voice ordering him to help mother with the cooking. His emotions were now all over the place: there was exhilaration – something that the older boys had talked about, and sense of horror at Eogan brutal death, which was something that was not mentioned at all over the fire at feasting and lastly, anxiety; for he was still a boy, not yet allowed to have a sword of his own. A dagger he had, but everyone had one of those, not a weapon made for killing.
‘But I’m not of age yet?’
Corraidhín gazed intently in his eyes before speaking.
‘You are now of age in my eyes. This is our Blood-gift. Let no one take it from you. Not even Kin.
The morning was now long past its prime. The sky was still black and threatening to consume all that was under it. However, as Traherne led the nine foreigners towards Meillionydd, some sort of barrier halted the great maw that had followed the men across the sea. Perhaps the stories were true and he touched the pommel of the sword for good luck.
The foreigners walked in silence: a purposeful walk of those who had survived many trials. Traherne turned to his right and was greeted with a smile.
‘And now you want to chat,’ said Corraidhín.
Traherne turned his face away from Corraidhín’s ridicule and saw another man, smaller, although more bulky, shake his head and speak.
‘Don’t mind Corraidhín. His sense of humor is not the most discerning.’
Traherne opened his mouth to ask who he was, but was cut off in a tumble of words.
‘I’m Tadhg before you ask, and I love to chat. Not that anyone here appreciates it.
There was a pause only to gather breath.
‘So, do you still have the Old Ones here? What’s Meillionydd like? Is there any pretty woman? And do you have a sister by any chance? You think you could introduce us?’
Traherne was taken off balance at the jumble of questions and a second later, he watched as Tadhg rubbed his forehead as a stone bounced off it.
‘Oh shut up.’ he heard Corraidhín say without malice.
‘Come on Corraidhín. At least you’re not the victim of it for once,’ shouted back another of the foreigners.
‘Thanks, Eoghann,’ said Tadhg.
‘Don’t mention it. In fact, don’t say another word to me. I’m looking forward to peace and quiet, now you have your latest victim beside you.’
Traherne smiled. Maybe these foreigners weren’t as scary as he had first thought. Corraidhín was the only one who had seemed unthreatening. He hadn’t been sure of the rest, but the good-natured banter was dispelling that perception. He turned his face to Tadhg.
‘ I don’t have a sister.’
Traherne saw disappointment in Tadhg’s sky-blue eyes and said before the stocky man could get a word in edgeways.
‘But, there are lots of pretty woman at Meillionydd.’
Traherne couldn’t help laugh at the foreigners face, as did Corraidhín at his companion’s expression. It was just too funny. And as he laughed, Traherne tried to think how to answer the two other questions. Describing Meillionydd would be easy, but to his mind, it would not do it justice. However, on the subject of the Old Ones, or as his people named them – the Fey, it was far more difficult.
His Kin had their legends: stories, such of Rhisiart, the Hero of Meillionydd, who had married a Princess. The Head Kin was supposedly of that same bloodline and it was true that he did have in his possession an iron sword that was claimed to be Rhisiart’s.
Traherne didn’t really believe in the tales. The sword was like Corraidhín’s. It was just a sword, if beautiful and expensive one. And then there was supposed to be the protector of Meillionydd, the son of Rhisiart, a man of mixed blood named Davith. This was one of the stories that the Red Fox, a strange storyteller, who frequented the settlement every so often, most enjoyed telling. Again, Traherne didn’t believe the stories. But at the same time, he didn’t want to insult the Fey, if they did exist that is.
With the laughter spent at Tadhg’s expense, silence came back to the group and Traherne brought his gaze back to foreigner who liked to talk.
‘Meillionydd is Meillionydd. I’ll let you decide what it’s like.’
Tadhg nodded reluctantly.
‘And on the Old Ones?’
‘We call them Fey. I could tell you of the story of Rhisiart, the hero of Meillionydd, if you want?
Traherne’s throat was beginning to get dry with all the speaking. He wanted to kill that man. Tadhg was not satisfied with just one tale. He seemed to have insatiable appetite for them. Traherne was now having a hard time remembering all the stories the Red Fox and the rest of his Kin used to tell, unfortunately, he was not particularly interested the old legends, so he hadn’t bothered to try to memorize them.
Thankfully though, as he put another foot in front of another, he knew that they were very close the settlement, for the wind that battered them as they travelled, had become a caressing breeze and, he now felt the sun’s heat, which was nonexistent nearer the coast, warming his damp body.
Traherne smiled. He would be able to get something to drink at last.
Although, now he thought about it, looking up at the sky, it was as if someone or something was protecting the settlement from the harshness of the elements. He dismissed the notion as just fantasy.
Traherne gazed across the horizon and, as he did so, he saw the quartz-veined embankment that stood as a Warden against foes come into view over the brow of the hill. The outer rampart was imposing no matter how many times one saw it. And his smile broadened in seeing that all of the foreigners had come to a sudden stop, staring at the silent guardian in awe.
‘You weren’t kidding when you said Meillionydd was Meillionydd,’ said Tadhg.
Traherne laughed and said simply.
‘Welcome to my Home everybody.’
Traherne heard shouting, as the group around him moved through the timber entranceway that was strewn with green, red and blue wool, which fluttered in the breeze and, as they zigzagged through the inner ramparts to enter the heart of the settlement, the shouts became more assertive.
He started to become nervous, for although the calls at the start were anxious, even curious to begin with, they soon became aggressive, making the foreigners around him wary, which was not good, considering he was in the middle of them! Traherne was sure that a number of those around him were considering him as a hostage if things went sour. And on that thought, he brushed his hand against the hilt of the bronze sword and then felt Corraidhín place his own on his, in reassurance.
Traherne saw that Corraidhín’s eyes were like iron, mirroring the gleam of this sword. Corraidhín turned to face the leader of the foreigners.
Traherne felt Corraidhín’s hand on his shoulder as he spoke.
‘Will you join me, boy?’
Traherne inclined his head in answer and stepped ahead of the other foreigners, flanked by Corraidhín and Nuallán.
It was a little naive perhaps, but he trusted that Corraidhín would not hurt him if trouble broke out, but he didn’t have that kind of faith for Nuallán. There was coldness to the man that Corraidhín did not have.
Traherne and the two foreigners beside him waited until a small group of warriors came into view, which to Traherne surprise included his father, as well as, the Head Kin. And as he watched them come closer, Traherne’s amber eyes sought to catch his fathers brown, to gauge his mood and, he didn’t like what he saw. Not one bit.
‘What have you done to my son?’ Traherne heard his father almost spit at Nuallán and Corraidhín. Traherne clenched his hands; not understanding why was his father so angry? But then he realised, there will still dried blood on his tunic and the laceration above his right eye was still fresh. It didn’t look particularly good at all.
‘Are you the Head Kin?’ Traherne heard Nuallán ask.
Traherne watched aghast as his father moved to draw his bronze sword.
Thankfully, the Head Kin pushed his father backwards before the blade left the sheath and Traherne drew a sigh of relief. The Head Kin stepped forwards and stared at Nuallán’s eyes before speaking.
‘I am the Head Kin. Would you release the boy?’
Nuallán nodded and waved at Corraidhín.
Traherne felt strong hands upon his shoulder and hot breath against his right ear.
‘Remember. Let no one take it from you. Not even Kin.’
Traherne then felt pressure against his spine as Corraidhín pushed him towards his Kin and the fury of his fathers gaze.
Traherne felt his father’s hands pull him in a bear hug, smelt smoked haddock in his breath, which reminded him of Eogan and then, he felt the same hands fumble at the belt that held the bronze sword.
‘Give that here. Your too young to have that,’ he heard his father say harshly.
Traherne began to relive Eogan’s death, images of it all drifted across his eyes and Corraidhín words earlier echoed in his mind. Traherne pushed his father away before the belt was undone, felt a rough hand slap him around head, making his ears ring and then with wide open eyes, he saw his father falling backwards, the imprint of a fist upon his jaw.
He looked around him franticly. Heard shouting and the clash of swords and, the buzz of arrows and the thunk of arrowheads impacting against wood. Corraidhín was defending himself against two of the Meillionydd warriors. Nuallán was fighting the Head Kin. Everything was pandemonium.
Traherne in the middle of the mêlée closed his amber eyes and took a deep breath and shouted out with all his lungs.
Arrows stopped whistling in the air; the scraping sound of bronze blade against bronze blade disappeared. Shouting became cries of alarm. Traherne opened his eyes and saw a figure floating in the middle of foreigners and Kin alike.
He was dreaming. Perhaps he was already dead? Killed by a stray arrow. No! He was alive and what he saw was real or, as real as those around him who looked on in terror were.
Ribbons of light crisscross the man and there was ethereal quality to his apparel. Was it an Old One as the foreigners had named them? Traherne his heart in his mouth stared at the man. The most striking thing of the figure was not his clothes or his apparent levitation, but it was his hair, crimson, like a naked flame in the night.
Traherne shivered, as if he was seeing ghost. It can’t be? Could it? The tales of the Hero of Meillionydd told of a giant of a man with long golden locks, but he had heard of a different telling of the tale. The Red Fox with a mischievous gleam in his eye, had told Traherne on a storm-ridden night – that Rhisiart was very different from how they idealized him to be, and instead, was a short child faced man, with a mop of red hair that could be seen even in the pitch-blackness of night. And that image that the storyteller had conjured now was floating before them.
Traherne watched the would-be-hero of Meillionydd turn to face him and felt the apparition fix his emerald eyes upon him. Then there was smile. Traherne felt warmth course through his body and at that moment, he understood why this man was the Hero of Meillionydd. He could no longer dismiss that those stories told by the hearth and at feasts were just stories. The world of the Fey existed.
He watched as the Hero’s mouth opened and those around him heard nothing, but Traherne felt resonance, words feeding into his consciousness.
‘Be my will, young warrior. Bring peace to my home again.’
Traherne gazed at the men around him, both his Kin and the Foreigners were at this moment too afraid and in awe to move, but soon the fighting would begin again in earnest. He understood what he had to do. And he walked towards Nuallán and the Head Kin, who were only yards from each other. Traherne shouted once again, this time feeling the appreciation of the apparition, as it disappeared.
‘Stop it all of you! The hero of Meillionydd commands it!’
Traherne waited nervously as those around him pointedly stared at him. He hoped they would put away their weapons soon. There was no need to fight. And as the seconds past on, he became more and more tense, aware that everything could revert back to chaos at any moment. His hands shook with anxiety. Finally, after a long pause, he watched the Head Kin re-sheath his blade and one after another, both foreigners and Kin did the same.
‘The hero?’ he heard Nuallán ask bewildered.
Traherne turned to answer, but a familiar voice interrupted.
‘The Hero of Meillionydd, my dear man from across the water, is the protector of this fine settlement. Has not the boy told you of these wondrous tales?’
Traherne couldn’t believe his eyes. How did that man get here? It had been many summers since that man’s last visit and he hadn’t seen him enter the settlement amongst the fighting.
He watched in fascination as the Red Fox, in his patchwork cloak of blue, green, red wool and feathers, waved at them all from a vantage point on the inner rampart and then, move quite deliberately towards them with a mischievous smile, speaking on many things and none that he could guess of.
He watched as Nuallán’s scowl that was directed at the storyteller’s voice was then turned to confusion, as the Red Fox handed him a horn of mead.
‘Now wet you thirsty throat. Tonight we feast and tell stories into the night.’
Nuallán turned to the Head Kin.
‘Who is this fool?’
Traherne almost laughed out loud, as the Red Fox grinned at the Head Kin, who gave a great sigh.
‘He is the Red Fox, the best teller of legends and myths that you would ever know. And he is right. Please join us in a feast to celebrate your coming to our humble home. And be in peace. The hero wills it’
Nuallán scratched his chin and beckoned Corraidhín to him. Traherne watched as they conversed in quick hushed tones. Finally, they broke apart and Nuallán once again face the Head Kin.
‘It would be our pleasure.’
Traherne gave a long sigh of relief and swayed as he felt his body was on the verge of exhaustion. A hand squeezed his shoulder. He looked up at the smiling storytellers face and heard his melodic voice.
‘The hero heard your call. He answered your heart. Now sleep and be content.’
The last thing Traherne remembered before blacking out was Corraidhín carrying him into the heart of settlement.
Traherne first heard the crackle of the fire, the laugher of men, woman, and children, and a rich voice drift in the night’s sky. He opened his eyes and saw Corraidhín sitting next to him. A hand reached out, offering a horn cup.
Traherne took the cup took a gulp, and coughed, spewing amber liquid over his trousers.
‘Your at age where one should experience the sweet nectar that is mead.’
Traherne put the cup to his lip and sipped the liquid carefully. Enjoying the new taste. As he swallowed the liquid, he felt a warm feeling envelope his consciousness. It was good, if strange.
Normally, he had diluted beer and was not allowed anything stronger. His older Kin, including his brother had teased him that he hadn’t tasted mead before, which although was hurtful, it was true. Traherne had protested many times, saying that it just wasn’t fair, but father was always very adamant that he was too young to be drinking the honeyed wine.
‘No need, boy; it’s I who should be thanking you,’ and Traherne saw a lopsided smile, ‘again.’
Traherne didn’t know what to say to that. He didn’t really do anything. It was the apparition of the Hero of Meillionydd and the Red Fox, who had calmed everything down. He had just shouted like a frightened boy.
‘Following that storyteller everywhere he goes. I think Tadhg may propose to the man before morning.’
Traherne couldn’t help but giggle and he spluttered, as the mead went down the wrong way. He composed himself and looked around. The roundhouses were empty, other than a few young girls peaking out from their entranceways and, when approached by their mothers would squeal in delight, before running back into the their homes. He smiled. Just about the whole settlement was out in the night’s air, enjoying the festive mood. He couldn’t see his father though, or Nuallán and the Head Kin. Where were they? He supposed Nuallán and the Head Kin were hammering out a treaty of some such. Father wouldn’t be with them, would he?
‘Where’s my Father?’
Traherne saw Corraidhín scowl.
‘I had a talk with him earlier. He disappeared after that.’
Traherne frowned. He should go and find him. Explain everything and make his peace with him. He got to his feet, putting his cup on the plank of wood he had sat on.
‘Where are you going?’ he heard Corraidhín ask.
‘To find father.’
‘I wouldn’t’ if I were you.’
‘How would you know! He’s my father, not you!’
Traherne ran from the feasting. He had no idea where that anger came from. It was sudden and addictive.
Traherne leaned against his Kin’s roundhouse. Why was he so angry? Corraidhín had been nothing but kind to him. So, why was he so angry with him? He sighed. Father wasn’t inside the roundhouse. He seemed to have vanished completely.
‘What do we have here?’ he heard a familiar voice say.
Traherne turned to see a group of older boys and young men walking towards him.
‘Made friends with the foreigners I see,’ he heard his brother say snidely.
Traherne still fuelled by his anger of earlier glared at the group.
‘Leave me alone, Bevyn!’
Bevyn laughed. It wasn’t a pleasant sound.
‘Or what…you’ll stab me with that sword at you hip? I think it would look better on me,’ Traherne watched his brother turn to the group behind him and address them, ‘ don’t you think so everyone?’
Bevyn stepped toward him.
‘Now give it here you little shit!’
Traherne backed away. Clumsily pulling the sword out of its sheath and pointing it at the menacing face of Bevyn.
‘You think you can stop me taking it from you?!’
Traherne’s whole body was shaking as his brother moved deliberately towards him: a slow gait that made Traherne’s hands shake even more. The sword felt heavy in his hand and his arm ached from keeping the point leveled at Bevyn. To Traherne, it felt like that any moment, he would drop the weapon. And in an instant, only a blink of an eye, Traherne saw his brother throw himself at him.
The anger of earlier swelled. It filled him, like mead warming his whole body. Without thinking, Traherne slashed down at his attacker. He heard a cry of pain and he looked up to see his brother stumble back, a line of crimson on his right arm. The group that had once egged on and joined his brother had now dispersed. Leaving Traherne with Bevyn.
‘It’s your fault that Father is now being shunned. Yours, the foreigners and that sword,’ he heard Bevyn snarl, clearly in pain.
And with those words, Traherne watched his brother leave, clutching his injured arm, dripping droplets of blood that resembled miniature rubies.
Traherne collapsed to the ground. What had he done? He had actually stuck out at his brother. Not with a stick, or a fist, but with an object made to kill!
The sword in his hand fell from his grasp. He lifted his shaking hands and looked at them with wide eyes. What was he becoming? Anger seemed to overwhelm him. And for a split second, he had actually wanted to kill Bevyn.
Traherne looked around frantically, searching for the face behind the voice.
‘When threatened, a man, a boy and even a woman will use whatever they have to fight back.’
Traherne gazed into the shadows to where the voice seemed to be coming from. A moment later, a giant of a man came out and sat opposite him. Traherne lowed his gaze. He could tell immediately that he was one of the foreigners, but he couldn’t tell who he was; he didn’t remember the man saying or doing anything of note in their journey to the settlement. So, who was he?
‘Look at me when I’m speaking to you, boy!’
Traherne looked at the man with anger bubbling to the surface.
‘Good. Anger is how you feel now. Nothing wrong with that, but don’t be defined by it.
Traherne nodded, although he did not quite understand. How was anger good? And the man must of read his thoughts upon his face.
‘Don’t be frightened of yourself, boy!
Traherne notice the foreigners terracotta eyes flick to the bronze sword beside him.
‘You defended your honour and ours. Corraidhín spoke true words when he said that you must not give that up, even against your Kin.’
Traherne pulled the sword on his lap, gazing at it in wonder and terror or, was that astonishment, as well as, fear of himself. Perhaps he needed to accept the anger to be in control of it. Was that what the man was trying to tell him?
‘Who are you?’ he asked.
‘You may call me Naois. Now re-sheath that blade and follow me. Nuallán and your Head Kin are asking after you.
The heat in the roundhouse was prickly, almost uncomfortable. Traherne sat in one corner of the central hearth trying not to itch all over.
He watched as Nuallán and the Head Kin argued over the finer details of their treaty. Both of them hadn’t noticed him and, he didn’t have to look to know that Naois was beside the entranceway. He shook his head at his lack of observation. How had he not noticed the giant of a man earlier? For now that they had spoken, there was no mistaking his presence.
Traherne, not wanting to alone with his feelings and thoughts, now gazed around the Head Kin’s home and saw the Elders sitting patiently to one side and then, he noticed the Head Kin’s son sitting on the other side of the hearth with the Red Fox. The boy was only five summers old and was named Rhisiart in honour of the Hero. Traherne couldn’t help thinking that it was either arrogance that had led to the child’s name or, the young Rhisiart had a destiny that echoed his namesake. He would of believed the former before today, but now, he wasn’t so sure.
Traherne couldn’t help but smile as he saw that Rhisiart was engrossed in one of the storyteller’s tales. Where was Tadhg? Hadn’t he been following the Red Fox? The canny old man must of given the foreigner the slip sometime during the drinking contest. Not that he knew that there was such a contest going on, it was just common practice to have one at any feast day. And to be honest, his Kin would find any excuse to drink. A contest was just a convenient one.
Traherne’s shoulders slumped as he thought of his father, who always seemed to win the contests. Not even old Finian, who could soak up any mead or beer, could match up to his father. So, where was he?
Traherne looked up at the voice and saw the Head Kin looking him.
‘Come here, boy.’
Traherne got to his feet and moved to stand before the Head Kin, who was now sitting with the Elders, away from Nuallán, who was with Naois near the entranceway. And as he gazed at the Head Kin, it dawned on him that the man before him was imposing: he had the same easy authority as Nuallán had over the foreigners. And despite the grey streaks that rippled through his hair, making him almost badger-like in appearance, there was a kindness underneath the exterior. Traherne couldn’t help but think that even after so many generations, there was a little bit of the Hero of Meillionydd in the Head Kin’s mannerisms. It made him less nervous.
‘Tell us what happened to you today, boy?’ he heard the Head Kin ask.
And Traherne did.
‘Do you trust them,’ Traherne heard Rhisiart’s grandfather ask.
‘Yes.’ Well, he trusted Corraidhín, Naois, Tadhg, that was good enough he supposed.
‘Speak up, boy,’ he heard another of the Elders say impatiently.
‘Yes I do.’
Traherne shuffled his feet nervously as the Elders scrutinized him and began to whisper amongst themselves. A moment later, the hushed chatter subsided and the Elders all inclined their heads towards the Head Kin. Rhisiart’s father seemed to sigh in relief at their verdict. Traherne now gazed into the Head Kin’s eyes, waiting for the man to speak.
‘The reason we brought you here was not just for you to tell us what happened to you,’ he heard the Head Kin say to him, ‘ but the treaty proposed by Nuallán involves you personally.’
Traherne glanced at Nuallán behind him, who watched the proceedings without expression. Why? Anger started to bubble to the surface like before. Traherne looked back at the Rhisiart’s father. What did the treaty have to do with him anyway? He was just a boy caught up in a man’s world. Why was he involved!
‘Firstly, ‘ and he followed the Head Kin’s gaze that led to the blood-gift from Corraidhín,’ it stipulates that no Kin, nor any man or woman of Meillionydd may take that sword at your side.’
Traherne looked at Eogan’s bronze sword that he wore. His hand shook. Is that what it is all about? He angrily fumbled with the belt that held the weapon. Well, if that was the reason, why have the damn thing!
‘Remember my little brother’s words!’
Traherne stopped and turned to see Nuallán now walking towards him. Corraidhín was Nuallán’s brother? It explained the dynamics of the group, but how can two people of the same parents be so dissimilar? But then again, he and his brother were like chalk and cheese.
‘Do you remember them, boy?’ he heard Nuallán ask, as a hand grabbed his shoulder.
Traherne pushed the hand off. Anger yet again coming to the surface. Unwanted, ugly, but satisfying all the same.
‘Yes, I remember the words!’ and he spat them at Nuallán, ‘Let no one take it from you! Not even Kin!
Traherne watched in confusion as Corraidhín’s older brother knelt beside him. Nuallán’s eyes were fixed on his.
‘Those are not the words you must remember.’
‘Then what are the words?!’
‘That “You are now of age in my eyes”.’
Traherne was taken aback by the quietness of the man’s voice. It sounded more like Corraidhín than Nuallán’s. Indecision paralyzed Traherne. His whole body wanted to rage at Nuallán, but he couldn’t. Naois was right. He should not be ruled by the anger. And then it all fitted in place, like a bronze blade slotting into its handle during construction. The foreigners didn’t consider him a boy any longer. To Corraidhín, Tadhg, Naois and Nuallán, the bronze sword at his hip was an emblem of this, and the so, they are forcing his Kin and those of Meillionydd to accept that fact.
Traherne turned back to the Elders and the Head Kin. His cheeks felt flush, as embarrassment at his display of anger and childlike behaviour seeped from every pore. The uncomfortable feeling, which came from the Elders’ pointed gaze and that pricked the gap between his shoulder blades lessoned, as the Head Kin ignored the outburst and continued on as before.
‘Secondly, they have asked that one of there own stay until their traders arrive and that on their departure, a envoy from us will travel to their home.’
Traherne saw the Elders nodding at that. It seemed to make sense.
‘However, they also wish for you to be part of that envoy.’
Traherne could tell that the Elders were not happy about it. He looked back at Nuallán, who has now gone back to his expressionless façade and Traherne made his decision. It was easy choice, if one just thought about it.
‘That fine with me.’
‘Well it not fine with us,’ he head a rather annoyed Elder snap, ‘you’re a boy. It doesn’t matter if you have that sword. You have no right to be part of the delegation.
Traherne although taken aback by the old man’s vehemence, he smiled as the Head Kin silenced the man with a glance.
‘I’m also not happy about it,’ he heard Rhisiart’s father state plainly.
Traherne’s smile vanished.
‘But,’ the head kin continued, ‘if that it’s the will of the Hero. It will be – is that acceptable, Nuallán?’
‘Yes. We will be leaving tomorrow.’
And with that – the leader of the foreigners left the roundhouse.
Traherne now fidgeted under the displeasure of the vast majority of the Elders, many who wanted their own sons to be part of the envoy. What was he supposed to do now? Stay in the roundhouse as they show their displeasure?
‘You should go and enjoy the last of the feasting,’ he heard the Head Kin say and felt a hand upon his shoulder, ‘I’ll deal with those sour old men. Go on. Enjoy yourself.’
Traherne did as he was told. He left the unhappy Elders to Rhisiart’s father and joined the festive shenanigans outside.
Light filtered through the clouds and made Traherne’s eyes flicker. He opened them fully and blinked as the morning’s gaze made his eyes water.
The last thing he remembered was dancing with a woman at least five summers his senior. He stood up from the oak plank that he had slept on and felt a pale arm slip off his leg. He gazed down and noticed that it was the woman who he had danced with. What was her name again?
‘So, now you’ve become a man at last?’
Traherne jumped at the sound of the voice. He felt his face grow hot as he stared at Rhisiart’s Grandfather. Did he? And he looked at the sleeping woman. Did they?
‘Don’t worry, boy. I was only teasing you. Edana just fell asleep on you. Both of you wore yourselves out dancing last night.’
Traherne breathed a sigh of relief. Then felt embarrassment strike again as he heard Edana moan in her slumber. He felt himself harden. And he lowered his gaze on hearing the Elder laugh. Rather than ridicule, Rhisiart’s grandfather’s response was of good-natured amusement, not that it made Traherne feel any better.
‘Where’s Corraidhín and the others? He asked, not trying not to glance at Edana behind him.
‘There near the entranceway.’
Traherne didn’t bother to give his thanks and with still burning cheeks, he went to find the foreigners.
It didn’t take long to find the foreigners. They weren’t exactly where Rhisiart’s grandfather had said, but it was relatively close.
In the end Traherne just had to find the largest group of Kin and where the sound of Children laughing and of young women chattering amongst themselves, was the loudest. He saw some of the warriors who had created friendship during the feast, clasp hands with their counterparts. It was good to see. However, he couldn’t see his Father or his brother. Where had father got?
Traherne looked up at tree trunk without foliage that was Corraidhín and clasped his hand. Strong. Callused. What should he say? He hadn’t seen Corraidhín since his angry outburst. And when he had returned to the feasting, Corraidhín had disappeared. He had asked Tadhg, who had no idea where his friend had disappeared. It was just after that when Edana had grabbed his arm to dance with her.
‘Be safe, Traherne,’ he heard Corraidhín say softly.
Traherne was taken by surprise of the use of his name. Not even his Kin often used it. He let go of Corraidhín’s hand, sensed his face flush as he thought of Edana for some strange reason and felt a slap on the back, which made him almost bite his tongue.
‘Did you have a good time with that pretty girl?’ he heard Tadhg say.
‘Did you get your answer from the Red Fox?’ And Traherne watched as a vein above Tadhg’s left eyes twitched. The man’s mouth closed without a sound.
‘By the Old Ones, the boy has magic,’ he heard Eoghann say out loud, ‘he’s made Tadhg silent.’
Laugher rang out at Tadhg’s expense. Traherne gazed around the foreigners. So, Corraidhín wasn’t staying. Who was? Tadhg? And Traherne could help but laugh with those around him and Tadhg just glared. Tadhg had only himself to blame, for while being completely hammered by mead, he had actually proposed to the Storyteller.
Laugher dwindled to a hum and Traherne heard a familiar voice. It was his fathers.
‘Die, Foreigner. You think you can get away with attacking my son!’
Traherne cried out in horror as his father ran at Corraidhín and chopped down with his Bronze sword at the foreigner’s nape. It was just like with Eogan all over again.
Traherne rushed to his father, who was flat on his back, a sticky crimson substance was around his lips. Traherne watched his father choke on the blood and took the hand that strained to reach him. Traherne was surprised to found tears in his eyes. He had never got on with him, a hard man to like, but then again, he was his father nonetheless. Guilt nagged at him, as a wolf would gnaw at a carcass. If he hadn’t warned Corraidhín, if he hadn’t been so friendly to the foreigners, then perhaps he would be still be alive.
Traherne felt his father’s hand squeeze one and then stillness. He got to his feet and stared at Nuallán, who had sheathed his iron sword: the weapon that had ended his father’s life. Anger swallowed Traherne. He drew his bronze sword and attacked.
The sword stopped. Traherne held the sword a hair’s breath from Corraidhín’s head and Nuallán looked angry with his brother, who had stepped in front of him weaponless.
‘Give me the sword, Traherne,’ he heard Corraidhín say.
Traherne glared at Corraidhín. Anger began to rage like a wildfire in his blood. Hot. Toxic. But it was so satisfying. But, as soon as it had come, the rage dissipated, almost like it had never been there in the fist place. He grabbed for it again, but found nothing. He heard a resonance, just like he had experienced with the apparition of the Hero. The voice reminded him of the Red Fox’s lyrical speech.
‘Calm, young warrior; don’t be controlled by your pain.
Traherne lowered the bronze sword and handed it to Corraidhín, sank to his knees and sat cross-legged, holding himself.
Corraidhín came and sat with him. Traherne gazed at the foreigner with tear stained eyes. He felt something heavy upon his knees and noticed that Corraidhín had placed his sword on his lap. Why had he given it back?
Traherne wiped the moisture from his face. No. It wasn’t his sword, for it wasn’t bronze! It was the Corraidhín’s. And was made of iron. Priceless. He placed at hand on the hilt and felt Corraidhín’s hand upon his.
‘I had a son and a wife,’ he heard Corraidhín say,’ both are gone now. Taken by the Old Ones.’
Traherne felt Corraidhín’s hand shake slightly before he continued speaking.
‘My son would be around your age, if he was still here. But he is not. And I have no one to pass this sword on to.’
Traherne watched, as his hand taken by Corraidhín and was wrapped around the haft of the sword.
‘And so, Traherne, I adopt you as my son from across the sea. And I leave you this sword.’
Corraidhín got to his feet and Traherne saw him nod at his brother, who called out to his follow foreigners.
‘Who will stay?’
Traherne looked up and saw Naois standing behind him, like bear standing over its cub.
‘And I will teach you how to use that blade,’ he heard Naois whisper to him.
Traherne watched the Foreigners go, while his brother hidden near the entrance looked on with hate.
The Red Fox sat upon the inner embankment, watching everything with the apparition the Hero of Meillionydd, who sat next to him. They both smiled.