Blood Ties

A little girl leaned on a headstone of some poor soul who’d died of consumption in 1912. She remembered him. He’d given her some Kendal Mint Cake before every Sunday service. The little girl smiled recalling the mint stickiness, it was a shame she couldn’t taste it then and now

She glanced at the night-time rush on the road.

Cars sped like ants rushing to honey, drawn to their Mecca of sweetness that satisfied all hunger. The humans behind the wheels were the sugary goodness that she craved. Nevertheless, to her eyes these cars that sped across the tarmac were slow, like the old silent movies that she used to watch decades ago, where they were slowed down or speeded up depending on the whims of the plot.

She smiled without meaning to.

She had always liked the way she could condense her personal timeline and make these steel horses crawl, like the beggars discharged from military service whom no one cared for. She felt a heartbeat of sorrow for them, but this was quickly over. They were a prime supply for blood as they neared their frozen death.

The moment that changed her death came slowly, like a puppeteer silently moving the arms of Punch and Judy, a memory of her almost forgotten childhood.

The stick held by Punch finally struck.

The convertible smashed into the Ford Escort in front. A sound like a balloon popping escaped the interior of the 1960s Aston Martin. The occupant, a man in a tight tailored suit, fell sprawling across the tarmac, gasping for breath as smoke and fumes filled the car. The woman in the Ford lay unmoving, her sandy hair matted with crimson. The air was filled with panic. The scenic St John the Baptist Church’s graveyard was marred by twisted metal, poisonous vapour: the iron taint of blood, puke, and defecation. The lines of graves fell like dominoes under the impact of the cars.

 

She looked on. She sniffed the air. There were at least two dying. She sniffed again, taking a long gulp of the fetid air. There were many more scents in the medley. Each human has a distinct fragrance, a note upon a sliding scale. She could discern age, gender. She could even smell how long a human had lived and when they were going to die, either it be a decade or, a day from now. Two of the humans involved were close to death’s door. These were acceptable targets. One was a woman in her late thirties. She had the scent of lilacs with hints of marigold running through the perfume, like veins of gold cutting through rock. A promising aroma. The second fragrance was a man’s. A darker perfume. Silty. He was a young man, not yet turned into the cul-de-sac of his twenties. It was an aroma of ambition and hope. She found it cloying. Many others were injured, as the collision of the Aston and Ford was the beginning; new collisions spread out across the single road like wildfire. She was only interested in the two who had not long left in the world. She smiled with milky fangs, pointy and elongated, pinching her lip. She had to be quick. Had to get her task done before the sirens sounded and the authorities came.

The young girl moved towards the two scents. The first was the young man, who was trapped. Shrapnel had pierced his body, like a voodoo doll full of pins. She looked down with her ageless sapphire eyes and a thought pricked her mind. She had never had a family. No mother she could put a face too. Her father? Was it the vague person who had fathered her or that hungry man who had turned her on his bloody rampage? The thoughts cascaded through the pinprick. Unbidden, unwanted but so real. Opening a chink in the armour that she had surrounded herself with as she looked down at the man. I want a father… a proper one. He could be it. It didn’t take long until that silent plea, like the insidious weeping fig tree, took root and expanded. What went with a father? And she gazed at the man whose laboured breath was becoming fainter. A mother – She smiled – A real family. No more living on her own on the streets and exposed to the sky’s wrath.

She sniffed and her small nose twitched. Her soon-to-be father didn’t have long. She had to do it now. She knelt beside him and beamed down at him, an angel of death, and gently caressed his cheek. She nodded her head at his scared sky blue eyes that had the sheen of crimson, like the blood moon, heralding death. Shush…Shush…all will be fine. She repeated her thoughts aloud to reassure him, and placed one of her tiny hands over his bloodshot eyes, closing them to her revealed form. Her eyes flicked and her pupils dilated. Sharp fangs revealed themselves and lips tasted blood. She fed as gently as she knew. She did not want to frighten her new found father. Joyful bliss as crimson wine, flowed. She drank with love. Tasted the man’s memories, his dreams and his innermost fears.

Then it was done. He would wake from induced slumber in a few hours. Plenty of time for her to digest all these new recollections, as if her father’s memories had become her own. Her father! There was an excitement in that thought that rivaled the rush of blood passing her lips. There was a dream and hope to be fulfilled. Her long-standing wish. She sniffed the air. Her mother to be, the scent of marigold and lilacs was souring, almost on the turn. There was no time to think or move her father to safety. She must go to her mother and performed the ritual. I’m coming, mother. Don’t die on me, mother. And she hurried to the woman now falling into a coma.

It did not take long to find her. The dying woman’s golden eyes were open but saw nothing. The mother she’d chosen had no idea that her new daughter was beside her. Ah, mother…what has happened to you? She went to her knees and stroked the woman’s sandy and crimson-laced hair.

Her nose twitched and she could taste that her mother’s time was running out.

She brushed a finger against her mother’s throat and gently bit down into the vein. Blood blossomed and flowed like lava and surged over her lips, burning her once-human soul and enriching her immortal one. She felt her mother’s experiences, her victories and failures, and most importantly her love for her own parents and siblings. It was sweet and sour, it was bitter and spicy and fulfilling as any restaurant. She looked down with a satisfied smile and longed to have her sleeping mother to hold her. Not long now. She would have that wish all too soon. It was time to bring her mother and father together and wait for the ambulances and fire engines to come to the crash victims’ rescue.

 

She wiped away excess blood and, with inhuman strength, she lifted her mother to her feet. She carried her to the prone form of her father. Gently did she lay her beside him and sat between the two, pulling their arms around her. It was time to wait. All will be fine… and in no time at all… I will have a family! And more importantly, as she had become faint, she needed to digest the new memories that drifted over her eyes, like slides of old family holidays. It was unsettling. A film reel flashed over eyes, filling her retina with picture after picture of past and present. The emplotment of her father’s and mother’s lives was before her in raised relief.

Her father. At last! His name was seared into her mind. He was christened Samuel but his friends named him, Mule. A silly, rather juvenile pun, and images of camping holidays replayed in her vision. It was endearing and her father the pitiful pack animal carried twice the amount of equipment as his friends. He had shrugged at the name and she saw him smiling, strangely proud.

She felt dizzy as moving pictures of her mother’s most recent holiday ran parallel to her father’s. She was with her work colleges in a spa resort in Bath. Elizabeth was what they had called her. Such a beautiful name… I love it. And she was her Mother! It was almost fantastical. Her fairy tale. An image of Christmas flickered before her eyes. Her mother was there with her family: a sister, brother and a nephew, as well as the grandparents. She saw them playing Articulate. How she ached to do something that simple – to play Articulate with her own family. They were enjoying themselves and the smile that blossomed on the face of her mother as she hugged her father was like the moon illuminating the night, completely magical. She snuggled into her mother’s sleepy embrace, waiting for a glimpse of that numinous smile. It was not long before she fell asleep, warm and in comfort in her parents’ arms.

 

Sirens and shouts echoed in her ears. Scents clambered at her nostrils. Dominating the rest, a perfume of pears came from a man, who seemed to be directing humans in strange orange suits towards the flames, which blazed in the background. She felt like she was in a sci-fi film, as one of these humans came towards her and the parents she’d claimed. His breathing deep and raspy from behind his oxygen mask. The scent of rotten apples seemed to permeate from the man. It was familiar. All too familiar.

‘Daphne? What are you doing?’

She glared at the man, as he took of his masklike helmet. She could feel blood well from her lips. She saw his long blonde hair fall past his neck, and cascade down his back. His eyes, green and poisonous pierced, her own.

‘Daphne, what are you doing?’

She glanced back to her mother and father. Felt trepidation as they opened their eyes to a little girl in their arms.

‘Daphne, I won’t ask again. What are you doing?’

She turned back to the man, fear cutting at every part of her body, like small blades slashing at her once-human heart. Her unknowing parents looked at her. Small. Fearful. She must have looked pathetic in their eyes and unworthy of being their daughter. They looked at the man; then, even though they had never met before they nodded to each other. A decision made. They did not like him. She could tell that thought was plain for all to see. But she was worried. He was dangerous and they had yet to awaken to their own strength, which her venom gifted. She stayed silent. He moved towards her. She edged backwards, almost tripping up, but arms held her steady. The warm hands of her mother stroked her face, while her father hand squeezed her shoulder, as he moved in front of her. She looked in horror, waiting for the man to tear her new-found family to pieces. She watched as he sniffed the air and then cocked his head at her.

‘Ah Daphne. You think it is that easy?’

He gave her parents a mocking bow, his eyes laughing at her. He pointed at them and spoke. His voice brought back memories she wanted to forget, most of all, of her own turning.

‘Look after your new-found daughter. We will meet again.’

She shivered at the prophetic announcement and watched as Elizabeth and Samuel gazed at her with uncertainly. She scrunched herself in a little ball and closed her eyes and ran towards them, tears welling and wailed at them.

‘Mother! Father!’

Her parents looked at each other, unsure of what to do. But it was the man who nodded his head and caught her in his arms. The woman joined him and smiled at her. It was a magical smile and one that pierced her immortal soul, and touched her once human heart. It was like the moon illuminating the night. The last thing she heard as she fell asleep in their arms from pure exhaustion, she would treasure.

‘You are safe now, little one.’

 

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The Erie From Across The Water

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!’

‘But, Nuallán…’

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?’

Traherne blinked.

‘What?’

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.

‘Don’t worry.’

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.

‘Corraidhín!’

*

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.

‘Thank you.’

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.

‘Don’t worry.’

Traherne saw that Corraidhín’s eyes were like iron, mirroring the gleam of this sword. Corraidhín turned to face the leader of the foreigners.

‘Nuallán!’

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.

‘Stop it!’

*

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.

‘Drink up.’

Traherne took the cup took a gulp, and coughed, spewing amber liquid over his trousers.

‘Mead?’

‘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.

‘Thanks.’

‘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.

‘Where’s Tadhg?’

Corraidhín laughed.

‘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.

‘It’s natural.’

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?

‘Boy!’

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.

‘Corraidhín!’

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?’

‘I will,’

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.

The Hero Of Meillionydd

Ribbons of light singed the horizon, kissing the brows of the rolling hills of the peninsula. The sun was pleased with the clouds’ civility, as they drifted across the vista of a settlement, allowing him to give a warm embrace to the surrounding landscape. Air rushed over the rising mounds of earth and rock, and as it entered the encircled coastline, the wind swirled and billowed. The zephyr made the many hued fields of meadow writhe like an ocean lapping against a sea cave. Wave after wave of viridian, olive and emerald rippled through the vista. Animals waded through the green sea. They were caught in the continuous current, inexplicably pulling them to and fro. The bleats of the sheep punctured the morning rustle of grass, as they braced the onslaught. Moving in a kin centred convoy, stopping every so often to wail at the jade sea in which they swam.

Between the brows of the golden tinged hills and the silvery mist laden azure sea, a double ring of stone enclosed a settlement. The stone guardians were comprised of layers upon layer of rubble, and in the conflagration of light that blazed in the heavens, the stone embankment glowed crimson and jet, while specks of turquoise haphazardly mottled the silent guardian. A gorse bush hedge sat upon the outer rampart. Like a helmet it rested upon the embankment with a distinct task and aesthetic intent. Its thorn encrusted mane spoke terror to those who tried to climb its bristly face. Still, young boys tried, as they were dared to by their young associates who continued to urge them to do many acts of stupidity.

Behind the outer stone rampart a timber canopy mirrored the fortifications, a timber and sheep hide structure that gave protection from the elements to those who guarded the settlement from raids – either from roaming bands of outcasts, or of rival settlements. Most raids came to nothing much than a few bruises and cuts. The worst would be a crippling wound and rarely did a death occur. There had not been a cessation of kin from rival aggression for a generation. The last death had been the end of a debilitating blood debt between the two settlements that vied for control of the coastal region in the peninsula. The debt had now been paid in full. Not in cattle and livestock, but in the blood of the young men of the settlements, who should be plying the fields and tending their young wives, not dead and littering the rolling hills and valleys of the peninsula in mournful Cairns.

Now an uneasy relationship between Meillionydd and their neighbours persisted, and like the volatile relationship between the settlements in the peninsula, the weather also had its own fickle liaison; one that moved from adoration to a whip crack cacophony of water, as the whispery wool like clouds darkened and the heavens released a deluge upon the settlement.

A young boy of thirteen summers, who had been frolicking in the sun’s heat with his friends, ducked into the canopy of the rampart. He wore a long olive wool tunic over brown tight fitted trousers. Upon his right arm, he wore ingots of Tin threaded with leather – denoting his un-married status. He had a leather belt around his waist, in which a Bronze knife was fastened and sheathed in sheepskin. His raven hair was tied into a tail with a leather thong, except for a single length, which had a herringbone braid. The other youngsters around him were similarly attired. The boy had been pretending that he was the great hero of the Meillionydd, who had beaten the bronze-wielding enemies – in this case played by his friends – that surrounded the settlement, cleaving men in two with his sword of star iron. This was one his favourite stories to re-enact, especially when it was maintained by his grandfather, one of the elders of the settlement, that the legendary hero’s blood raged in his own veins.

The boys huddled under the canopy, trying to avoid the torrent of water that fell. The young boy fiddled with the herringbone braid, which his grandfather had shaped, telling him as he secured it that his kin, all the way back to the hero of Meillionydd, had worn the same pattern. It was part of his heritage. The boy leaned against the stone rampart and listened to the rat-tat-tat of the rain against the stretched hide. The sharp scents of sheep dung and the musty smell of water mixing with fertilised earth assailed his nasal passages; he could almost taste it at the back of his throat. The sound of bleats from the sheep that roamed outside the ramparts echoed in the overwhelming disharmony of water. The young boy could smell the unfortunate animals – the odour of saturated wool.

‘Rhisiart,’ said Angwyn, as he crouched near to the timber frame of the canopy, ‘do you always have to be the hero of Meillionydd? Can’t some one else have a go?’

Rhisiart was about to answer his friend when one of the older boys came running to them, his wet hair flapping against his face.

‘Everyone, Rhisiart, Angwyn!’ yelled the boy, ‘there’s a Metal Magician with the elders. He has news of monstrous men clad in segments of iron and wielding swords of steel, sacking settlements along the peninsula. Let’s go and try to catch a glimpse of him?’

A chorus of agreement came from the young and now excited boys huddled under the canopy. The rabble of boys started to run towards the centre of the settlement. Angwyn waited and turned to his friend.

‘You coming?’

Rhisiart shook his head. He would find out what was happening later from his grandfather, who was also a kin Elder and whom the Metal Magician might stay with during his visit.

‘You’ll miss all the fun,’ warned Angwyn and he disappeared off into the vertical mist of tear shaped droplets that streamed down from the charcoal sky.

Rhisiart turned to the stone guardian and started to imagine himself at the ramparts with his Kin’s Star Iron sword yelling his defiance at these iron encased monsters. He walked out into the rain, and spotted a long length of wood, a fallen branch. He picked it up and swung it experimentally, imagining that it was his Iron sword, and smiled, as he pretended that he cleaved his opponent in two. He forgot all about the torrent of water that rushed over his head and down his body, soaking his woollen clothes, making him smell like the sheep that roamed the landscape. He was completely immersed in his fantasy of heroic feats. It was all that mattered at that moment in time.

Bronze Magician

Shadows swirled overhead, as the light of the morning sun rose unsteadily to his feet, and eventually at full height, looked down upon the landscape and with his face turned downwards, beamed. He blushed in embarrassment at his ungainly rise, and tore at the shadows, allowing a sultry glow to illuminate the landscape.

A clammy breeze drifted along, but as it moved over the rolling hills and up towards the highest peak, the air cooled and almost gained a chilling bite. Just below the icy winds, and near a Hill Fort was one of the three enclosures that dominated the hilltops of the peninsular. The breeze was cool but not of a bitterness that dominated the upper echelons of the hills. The air drifted along a wooden palisade, caressing the timbers until it was able to rush through the entrance with determination, and which can be likened to the hare escaping the clutches of an eager fox.

As the zephyr rushed through the entrance it swirled in every direction, filing through the roundhouses that criss-crossed the enclosure. Wrapping and warping around the structures the air finally dwindled to stillness. Only the tiniest of breezes drifted in and out of the structures, like a sparrow darting around foliage to eventually gain the dizzying heights of the sky.

Outside the palisade were the fields of wheat and barley blowing in the wind, like a sea lapping at the shoreline. The vista was festooned with trinkets made of copper and tin, to bring good fortune to the harvests to come. For the time being the waves of barley and wheat were empty of labour, or of men plying their vigour to keep their family from hunger. This was day of celebration. A time to drink, eat and enjoy the company of the kin.

Acrid and cloying scents of wood smoke mixed with the sweet, and mouth-watering aroma of mutton turning upon a spit, this wafted throughout the settlement, heightening the anticipation of the food, which had yet to be eaten. The firedog that held the sheep’s carcass in place was adorned with bronze decorations, of horse and boar, intricately depicted.

The sounds of the quern stones grinding and grating against wheat created rough flour. Cauldrons over flickering flames, if listened carful, were heard to bubble away, like a base note in the melody of the settlement. The blaze of the cooking hearth danced and licked at the heated metal of the cauldrons, until a cherry glow could be observed. The smell of brine wafted from a number of cauldrons, as salted sides of pig were boiled. While a perfume of parsnips, cabbage and barley simmered away, giving the hearty promise of stew, and sliced through the unpleasant salty concoction.

Laughter could be heard, as men lazed around the roundhouses, joking, conversing, drinking beer and playing Artek Rhiau, a game of strategy consisting of stone counters, and commonly known as Stone Lords. The men were attired in brown or green warn woollen close fitting trousers, and upon their torsos lay long tunics of a variety of colours, from blues, greens and reds. Cloaks of sheepskin adorned their shoulders. All had cloak clasps of varying quality, most wore ones of Bronze, and the exceptions were decorated in either gold or silver. They were the settlements elders. The married men were garlanded in armbands of Bronze and at there belts a Iron single bladed knife hung sheathed in sheepskin, while those yet to be wedded wore armbands of Tin, and a knife of bronze.

Away from the impracticalness of the men, as the females of the settlement consistently observed, women went about their business and continued to prepare the feast that would celebrate the new union of man and woman that was soon to be. All their efforts were focused, and as such, idle gossip was rife. Their endless chattering becoming a counter point to the raucous laughter of the men. Creating a pleasant din of vitality and community spirit. The women were clothed in long ankle length tunics, which hid close fitting trousers, and of the same colour to the men’s garments. They also wore cloaks of sheepskin fixed in place by bronze clasps, and those who were married wore necklaces of Bronze, while the women yet to be wedded had ones of Copper.  With the laughter of the men and the chatter of the women, an atmosphere of gladness and good cheer engulfed the settlement, as the ceremony was drawing near.

Outside one of the roadhouses sat a tall young man, his ruddy brown long hair being given a single braid by his Tadogi in readiness for the ceremony. He wore a blue long tunic over green trousers; a cloak of sheepskin fell from his shoulders, and was kept in place by decorated Bronze clasps. He had upon his belt a bronze bladed knife hafted in antler and sheathed in sheepskin. Upon his forearm was a band of Tin, which would soon be changed to Bronze. Around him was his Tras, his kin, and included the Tadogi, the brothers and uncles of his wife to be.

‘A single braid, or two, Lugus?’ asked Emyr, the Tadogi of the bride.

‘Just the one,’ Lugus replied, and moved away from his handiwork. He smiled at his son, ‘you will do, Llew. I’m proud of you on this day,’ and clasped the palm of his hand upon the young mans shoulders, and squeezed.

‘I am proud also,’ said Emyr, ‘I will welcome you with open hands to my Tras…’ and Emyr laughed with contentment, slapping Llew’s on the back, ‘…when you have beaten me at a game of Artek Rhiau.’

Lugus chuckled.

‘That shouldn’t be too hard, my son – anybody can beat Emyr, as he’s known to be the worst player in the whole settlement.’

Emyr’s sons got to their feet in mock anger, while Emyr bowed his head in self-ridiculing shame.

‘You are correct, Lugus, and it shames my Tras that I have such woeful skills in Artek Rhiau.’

Laughter echoed around the group, as a tall broad shouldered man garbed in a blue robe over brown trousers walked to stand beside Lugus.

‘You never change, Emyr, self-deprecating as you always was.’

Lugus and Emyr gave a short bow to the man, while the rest of the Tras went to their knees.

‘Welcome, Metal Magician Gofannon,’ Lugus and Emyr chorused.

‘Rise,’ commanded Gofannon, ‘and relax.’

Gofannon looked around and saw Llew, who was now standing in awe of him, and gave an inward smile.

‘Emyr and Lugus, I will give your son Llew a game of Artek Rhiau and test the lad in strategy and clear thought,’

The two Tadogi bowed again, while Llew gazed at the Metal Magician, startled at the attention. Llew couldn’t believe what was happening. It was enough that he was to marry Roisin, the Merch of Emyr, who was beautiful, as she was quick with her wit. It was astonishing. But something nagged at his mind. A foreboding. And now he was to play Artek Rhiau with a Metal Magician. There must be a catch? I can’t be this lucky in one day. He gawped at the man, who was broad and gave an aura of authority. Llew noticed, as he drank in the apparel of the man in his slack jawed gaze that on the magician’s left arm was a selection of metal bangles, of each metal that the magician was able to mould and smelt. There was Copper, Tin, Bronze, Iron, Silver and Gold. He wasn’t a beginner. The man was fully-fledged Metal Magician – A man of importance – and he felt even more nervous.

Gofannon gave an incline of the head to Llew and spread his hands towards the flat rock, which the wooden game board of Artek Rhiau and its circular stone pieces languished, bereft of leaders.

‘Shall we, young Llew?’

Llew blinked and looked again at the Metal Magician.

‘Of course, Metal Magician Gofannon,’ said Llew respectively and sat opposite the man to take command of his pieces. Frightening…exciting. It was both of these emotions, however he couldn’t yet reconcile them, as that worry still nagged at him – You should feel honoured you silly boy…be a man and fight this battle with a clear mind…Get on with it! Make your soon to be wife proud of you! It was time to dual.

Not far away from the celebrating men, and just behind the contest of Artek Rhiau, which Llew began to play, was Emyr’s roundhouse. The structure had many phases of use, rebuilt successively in timber and now in stone. A thick stone-faced wall with an earthen core created the present construction and the old timbers of an older phase could be seen to be poking out at odd angles from the stone facing.

Inside the construct was a large stone lined pit covered with pelts of sheepskin. Away from this and close to the inner walls of the roundhouse were more stone creations. There were a number of slate grey pot boilers, which dominated the left of the building and beside this was a pelt of sheepskin with a number of small objects, a number of whittle-tang hafted knives of iron, as well as, a couple of polishing stones. Beside these were a collection of stone hammers, pounders and grinders. Blue veined they sat upon the sheepskin with imperialist haughtiness at the speckled iron knives next to them. Away from the proud stones were two spindlewhorls, one half finished. The second was worn with use, and a length of newly created woollen fabric was attached to the abject. The fully formed but dilapidated spindlewhorl glowed with a fervent smugness at the unfinished object besides him, laughing at the items disability of service.  All these games of pettiness subsided by the glare of a single hammerstone, which lay upon his own pelt of sheepskin, like a high king disciplining his subject, the golden hued rock took the silent stares and murderous whispers of the fellow objects without a commotion or fear.

The interior of the roundhouse was divided into segments, which each had their own function, however the largest space by far was the centre circle, which was the communal heart of the structure. The space of the roundhouse was full of wood smoke and herbs. The hearth at the centre of the structure burned with vigorous intent. Small tendrils of flame licked the cherry wood that gave the scent that swirled a sweet undertone. Bouquets of aromatic plants that were thrown upon the fire wilted with wilful wonder and let loose a harmless narcotic that soothed the mind, and cleared the head, thus the cleansing vapour created a slightly bitter overtone to the roundhouse’s aroma. Amidst this cocktail was a tall slim, almost willowy girl, she was young, but her beauty was blossoming and prophesied that she would grow into a stunning woman. She was a beauty of abnormality, as most of the women of the settlement considered of good looks were of a larger stock, seemingly to be built for the rigors of child bearing. Her name completed the image of her splendour, Roisin, meaning little rose and to the Tras around her, she was their little rose, who was becoming in the eyes of the settlement, a woman. This meant, unfortunately from Roisin’s point of view that this was the last opportunity for her Tras to fuss over her and treat her like the child that they would always see her in their hearts. Roisin was not pleased with this predicament, nor was she particularly elated with the fact that she was in the nude.

Roisin looked nervously around her, as she stood unclothed. Her betrotheds and her own Mamau were both attending her. They had ushered her into the roundhouse, accompanied by the rest of her Tras and, as they had started the fire, chucked bundles of aromatic plants into the flames, while her Mamau’s striped her of her green tunic and brown trousers. They had taken all items upon her person, except the copper beaded necklace, which will soon to be replaced by bronze beads and she couldn’t help feeling excited to the prospect of matrimony between her and Llew. It has been a long time coming. Soon I will be a woman. She just wished she were dressed. She smiled despite this. No longer, the flighty girl that Llew had grown up with. Now I will be his wife. They had known each other since childhood; both helped to prepare food for the community, like all the other youngsters of the settlement did. He was a happy, handsome and honourable man, she was lucky to have him and as her thoughts trundled on, she could feel the caressing touch of the wood smoke and felt the vapours pierce her bare skin and begin to clear her mind. A humming came from her Mamau’s beside her, which was soon followed by the rest of the Tras. The song continued, as both Almedha and Shea, her Mamau’s – started to sing. The melody of the woman engulfed the roundhouse and their hypnotic sounds seeped into the walls of the structure.

Outside the roundhouse the melody of the female Tras leaked from the walls of the structure, like water seeping through earth, as the vegetation suckled upon the soil, and the sounds drifted over the settlement. Llew swayed in time with tune, as he looked down at the oak playing board of Artek Rhiau. The board had three squares inside each other, linked together by a cross. Each square was made up of three spaces, which each stone piece could move upon and the players had nine pieces apiece to place. The aim of the game was to take your opponents stone counters. Simple in concept, complicated in actuality – and I properly don’t have a chance. He pushed the negative mindset away – I can do this!

Llew’s emerald eyes gazed at the game board, unsure how to proceed. He had six pieces left, and his opponent had not lost a single one. His counters were staring annihilation in the face. There must be something I can do? He looked up at the smiling Metal Magician, and back to the board. What to do? And Gofannon’s smile drifted over his green eyes, a spark of irritation came and with this, another spark ignited, one of inspiration. Got it! Llew smiled at moved one of his lonely pieces in the inner square, setting up a trap for his opponent.

The interior of the roundhouse continued to be infused with the mix of the Tras’s melody and the cleansing haze from the central hearth. Roisin closed her eyes, letting everything filter through her. The song changed, as it rose in pitch, now there was dichotomy between Almedha, Shea and the rest of Tras. Suddenly all went silent, and she opened her eyes to see her Mamau, move towards her, a long tunic of wool, bleached to create an almost cream hue. The tunic was robe like, with designs of horses in green wool embroidered with a skilful hand. Almedha’s own.

‘For nakedness you stand,’ said Almedha, as he now stood beside Roisin.

‘We witness,’ chorused the rest of the Tras.

Roisin gazed at everyone her eyes taking everything in, not wanting to forget the event. It was surreal, and had no clue of the ritual, until now. No one had ever told her what the preparations entailed.

‘For you were born to life,’ said Shea, as she picked up a number of items beside her.

‘We witness,’ chorused the rest of the Tras.

‘To womanhood we condemn you to,’ said Almedha, a small quaver in her normally composed voice.

Roisin tried to blink away tears, as she heard the emotion in her Mamau’s voice. She tried to tell herself to be brave, she wanted to marry Llew – he was the only man I will love – but she was scared, it was like diving into a ice cold falls, which she had never visited before, unsure where the best footing is, and where not to swim.

‘We witness.’

‘Smoke and vapour cleanse you of you past life,’ said Shea, as Almedha placed the cream tunic over her Roisin’s head, and let it fall.

‘We witness.’

Outside the roundhouse, Llew’s noticed that the melody, which he had swayed to had dissipated and abruptly cessed. Damn! I was listening to that. It calmed his already frayed nerves. He creased his face in concentration, as he continued to play out his ambitious gambit. The Metal Magician moved one of his pieces carefully, trying to trap one of Llew’s. The aim was clear. He had to avoid being pinned, at the same time continuing to get ever closer to his plan. A plan, which he wasn’t sure he could pull off. He couldn’t afford to lose another piece and that was the honest truth. Around him he heard his Tras cheering, drinking slapping each other on the back, at how long he was able to survive in the game. He was proud at that at least. But was it enough. I want to win! The realisation of this came suddenly and without conceit. I will not just be content to give a good show! He would go for it and make Roisin proud.

Despite the din that the men made, he heard Emyr voice and his own Tadogi, Lugus, in the background.

‘He’s doing well, would of thrashed me and no mistake,’ said Emyr and he looked again at the board, ‘ it only matter of time now.’

‘He might surprise us, Emyr,’ said Lugus in a low hum, ‘I not sure what he is trying to do, but there is some plan to it,’ and he shock his head, ‘it not random, that’s for sure.’

Llew sighed. If his Tadogi could recognise that there was such a pattern. What hope did he have against Metal Magician Gofannon? He moved another of his stone soldiers. A cheer sounded, and Llew blinked in surprise, as the Metal Magician removed one of his counters. Cheers and hoots of laughter resonated in his ears. Had he just taken one of Gofannon’s game pieces? That can’t be right? And he looked down at the board again, and for a third time. He had taken one. He had actually managed to do so. Llew’s smiled. He might actually be able to pull the stunt off.

Roisin felt better that she now had some clothes on. And better late than never! She still could feel the raw emotion from her Mamau’s voice, as she continued to speak and the haze from the hearth sustained its caress of her skin through the material. She had the feeling that the ritual was nearly over, but the most important part had started.

‘Circlet of petals to show your womanly bloom to the world,’ said Almedha, as Shea moved to place a circle of crimson and white petals around her crown, and at the same time as her Mamau with a decorated bone comb, brushed down her long golden hair, which reached the curve of her spine.

Roisin felt a tingle down her spin. That felt nice.

‘We witness,’ chorused the rest of the Tras.

Llew felt sweat upon his brow, as he continued to stare at the board of Artek Rhiau. I’m hanging in there. He had managed to take two more of the Metal magicians pieces and lost only one. That left him with five to Gofannon’s six. Still better odds than it was earlier. But doubt creped into his mind, trying to collapse the hard won bravado, which he had cultivated and used to so far in the battle. The worry of before started to nag at his mind – something is not right – and he just couldn’t put his finger on it. Everything was going too well.

The cheers and laughter had disappeared. Now a silence of three parts persisted. The first was of concentration, as most were trying to figure out what each player would do next. This was the least important. The second was of respect to an epic battle of Artek Rhiau, not seen for a long time. This was to be expected. The third, and the most important was a silence of nervousness. It could almost be tasted upon the lips. Llew’s Tras was almost absorbing the feeling that he now felt. Confidence was not always his strongest attribute – I never had the swagger of my brothers – with a touch of black humour he recalled the last time he had showed bravado, his brother had given a black eye and some lovely bruises. It was Roisin who had doctored him, as he refused to go to his Mamau in shame. He couldn’t help smiling as he recalled that at each and every time he winced in pain at her touch, she squealed in concern and mothered him.

Llew’s watched, as Gofannon moved a stone counter and he automatically moved one of his own to escape a trap. The Metal Mage smiled charmingly, as he moved again. Llew drew in a breath. He was fooled and Gofannon had taken another of his pieces. He was now down to four. The end was coming. Might as well accept it.

Roisin continued to stand in the roundhouse, now clothed and nearing the end of the preparation rite, which was a relief. Thank all that is divine! All of a sudden, she heard the humming of the Tras, which had started earlier. It rekindled like a fire that had just died, but had air blown in-between its debris and as they sang, her Mamau and Shea moved in time to the melody towards the hearth, and only now, did Roisin see a small cauldron hanging over the flames. Shea and Almedha before pouring the boiling liquid into a communal cup sprinkled spices into the water. Roisin had no idea what they were, or how they would affect her, if there were even an effect.

Roisin watched as Shea and Almedha both took a sip from the cup and it was then handed to the rest of the Tras to sample. Finally, the communal cup came to Almedha’s hands, as she moved to her Merch.

‘We sip this liquid to signify our belonging to each other, and the start of a new day,’ said Shea with a smile on her face.

‘Sip this liquid dearest child, and become a woman in the eyes of all,’ said Almedha, handing the cup to Roisin, who took it and drank.

Roisin almost panicked, as she nearly dropped the cup – oops! But thankfully, it didn’t leave her hands. As she sipped the boiling liquid, she could taste a mix of flavours, of nettles, rosehip and something she couldn’t quite identify. Her long fingers shook, as she handed the communal cup back to her Mamau. She the felt Shea’s arms around her and then Almedha’s, who whispered in her ear.

‘It is complete. I am proud, and its now time to become one with your betrothed,’ and after she said this, all the Tras in the Roundhouse embraced Roisin.

Llew was starting to get irritated by the pleasant smile that Metal Magician Gofannon continued to ware. Damn him! That smile both irritated him and scared him – it has as prophetic cast to them – and the nagging worry resurfaced. His emerald eyes glanced down at the board and back at the Metal Magicians amber counterpart, trying to read his opponent. Gofannon’s smile became wider, as he moved one of his stone counters and Llew could see his down fall, the trap that the Metal Magician was creating was unavoidable, as he had two stone pieces to escape from it. Llew gave half a smile in return, he couldn’t be bitter about it all, and he rolled his eyes to the sky, as he moved his condemned stone soldier. He had taken four of Gofannon’s stone counters. That was an achievement in itself. Llew watched as the Metal Magician moved one piece and took his counter. Ending the battle. Llew’s Tras bellowed in appreciation and broke the three-part silence.

The Metal Magician got to his feet, leaving Llew seated. Llew looked at the smiling face of Gofannon, who gave short bow. The Tras around him cheered, his friends Hirael and Ken slapping him on the back, jarring his body. Llew chocked and by the time he recovered, Emyr and Lugus pulled him up to his feet.

‘Proud of you, son.’

Llew looked slightly confused at the attention.

‘I lost, why is everyone so happy?’ Why was every one happy, it not like I won?

‘To last that long against a Metal Magician, took nerve,’ said Emyr, ‘I’m proud that you are to join our Tras.’

Metal Magician Gofannon moved towards Llew and spread his hands into the air, calling for everyone to come to silence.

‘You have done well, Llew, son of Lugus,’ Gofannon spoke, quietly but with authority, ‘and I am impressed by your clear thought and your nerve,’ he looked at Llew and then waved his hand towards Emyr’s roundhouse, where Roisin stepped out to the open sky.

‘It is now time for your union to Roisin and for you to be the son of Emyr,’ Gofannon smiled and moved to embrace Llew.

Llew couldn’t quite believe what was happening, he had given a good account of himself, against a real Metal Magician, who even bowed to him, let alone embraced him. Something was not right? There was something in that look that spoke of destiny. Thing can’t be a good as they seem. Can they? He was just able to keep his composure and joined Roisin outside Emyr’s roundhouse upon shaking legs. The two betrothed took each other’s hand and looked at each other. Llew smiled, if a little ungainly, while Roisin smiled shyly. There hands squeezed each other’s, as they watched the people of the settlement to form around them. On Llew’s right was his Tadogi and Mamau, while on Roisin had hers on her left. The elders came to stand in front of them, and leading them was the Head Tras, Idnerth. Next to him was Metal Magician Gofannon, holding a number of metal objects in his hands.

Llew saw Idnerth smile at him and Roisin and then speak.

‘We are gathered here to complete the union between Llew son of Lugus, and Roisin Merch of Emyr,’ Idnerth paused and moved towards the couple. He wrapped a piece of cloth around their hands. Llew tried not to move his hand, as the material made his skin itch. He saw that Roisin was having the same difficulty.

‘Do you both swear to be true to each other,’ continued Idnerth.

In unison, Llew and Roisin answered yes.

‘Now I leave it for Metal Magician Gofannon to complete the ceremony,’ said Idnerth, as he stepped aside to join the elders.

The Metal magician gazed at the crowed and the back to the couple.

‘From Tyn and Copr you sprang, innocent to each other,’ and as he said this Lugus moved to remove his sons Tin armband and Almedha also moved to remove her daughters Copper necklace.

‘ These two in union form Efydd, the signifier of union, marking your mutually in purpose,’ Gofannon continued and he walked towards the couple, placing a bronze armband on Llew’s forearm and a bronze necklace over Roisin’s slim neck.

‘Together you keep each other and protect each other, thus Haearn shows your promise to do so.

The Metal Magician’s amber eyes gazed at Llew.

‘Will you son of Lugus protect your bride?’

‘Yes,’ answered Llew without thought. Always!

‘Then Haearn protect you both,’ called Gofannon, as he handed to Llew a decretive Iron knife, sheathed in sheepskin.

‘In any union, one must have knowledge of each other, to better understand each other, thus Arian will show you both the way,’ said the Metal Magician, as he placed silver bangles upon the couple.

‘Together you will be today, but for how long will that last with the frailties of age. With Aur you may grow old together and so your union will never fade,’ said Gofannon, as he gave bangles of gold upon the couple.

Metal Magician Gofannon finished the ceremony looking at the Tras of the settlement. He moved his hands to the heavens and shouted out for all to hear.

‘From Tyn and Copr, together in Efydd, protected with Haearn, understanding and life together, with Arian and Aur. Bless these two, Llew and Roisin, as they start their great journey together.’

The cheer that erupted from the crowed and reverberated over the settlement, drowning anything else that Metal Magician Gofannon may have said. Gofannon turned to look at Llew and was proud of his Nephew.