The House that Fish Built III…

Ilkwknd 109

…King Grim-Gaze the slug-man struck the silver sceptre that was in his hand against the bronze pillar of his couch three times, and by the third stroke, the combatants had let drop their hands to their sides.

“I restrain you, men of Albion, lest your mien be the paler: your shields are likely to be splintered in the attack for that to which you have not yet attained. My feast has to be celebrated and my wish is to divide the Champion’s Portion among all the host, and to decide with reference to it according to the will of Maeve, she whose mouth is sweet, in the Cave of Cruachan. Tomorrow, the heroes shall ride there for judgement, enjoy the food and ale before you, and let rivalry be put aside until the feast is over.”

So did the men of Albion return to their seats round the fire, to make light of the night, long into morning…

*

…The next day Connor Cruel-Crest and Long-Horn O’Leary met at the stables of King Grim-Gaze the slug-man.

“Let our horses be brought and our chariot’s yoked,” said O’Leary.

“There will be little profit for you in that,” said Connor, “by the men of Albion, the clumsiness of your horses is renowned, as is the unsteadiness of your going and turnabout.”

“And your chariot’s movement is so heavy that it’s two wheels raise turf on both sides,” said O’Leary, “so that for a year after your passing the track is still recognisable to the men of Albion.”

“Put not on me the precedence of kings until I have fared before the champions of Albion in woods and confines,” cried Connor as he stepped into his chariot.

“Put not on me the precedence of kings until I have nimbly crossed fords and outstripped the champions of Albion,” cried O’Leary stepping into his chariot…

*

…So the heroes of Albion set out for the Cave of Cruachan…

Through the Gap-of-the-Watch,

over the Plain-of-Two-Forks,

across the Ford-of-the-Morrigan

into the Rowan-Meadow-of-the-Two-Oxen

by the Meeting-of-the-Four-Ways they drove

before a dim, dark, heavy mist overtook them…

*

In the Cave of Cruachan, Very-White-Clear-Sight sat in meditation, “Mother,” she said, “I see a chariot coming over the plain.”

“Describe it,” said Sweet-Mouthed Maeve.

Said Very-White, “truly, I see horses pulling the chariot:

two stormy dappled greys

alike in colour and shape;

nostrils wide

heads erect

ears pricked;

manes flowing

of full slim-girth

their tails curled;

galloping side by side

bounding apace

they career along.

*

A chariot of fine wood,

the high frame’s wicker-work

creaks above its two black wheels:

its curved yoke is silver mounted.

*

In the chariot

a dark, melancholy man:

his eyebrows jet

his face pale

cheeks ruddy;

his blue mantle is

held across the chest

by a salmon brooch.

A three-pronged javelin

gleams from his shoulder.

An awning of bird plumage

waves from his chariot frame…

*

…“I recognise that man,” said Maeve,

“an ocean fury:

a whale that rages in the crash of battle,

like the back-stroke of waves against the land;

in face a man

in mien a hero

in heart a dragon;

swift, as the speckled trout

on sand stone is cut, the red

hand of Connor Cruel-Crest…

 – Excerpt from; The Heart Of Albion: tales from the Wondrous Head.

Ilkwknd 168

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