The Blind Division

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Blind Division

 I know why you have come, human. I know why you stand here reeling in confusion. An ill-wind blows across your world. You wish to ask, how did this happen? You ask how could an ancient creature like myself possibly comprehend … oh, but I do. Perhaps more deeply than you can imagine. All I ask is shelve the human ego for a moment and listen to the truth I tell, of the gravest mistake the slan ever made. There is no easy way to tell this, but I will try.

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The slan once were a single race, the god Cernunnos bestowed his gift on all our kind, despite the lowly animals we originated from. Mangan, brucach, faol, radan, and cugar, we lived side-by-side in mixed shires sharing the magic we were god-blessed with. Magic ran in our veins. Every slan who drew breath shifted into their ancient form at will. That was precisely where the names of our kinds came from. The faol, like myself, could transform into a dire-wolf. The act of shifting healed wounds. A highly useful skill full of strength and stamina. For eons we basked in the benefits of our gift, our peaceful culture thrived.

That was until fate lashed out and a shadow darkened the land. On the nights of the full moon a ravenous beast tore through shires and dragged off innocent slan, from whelps to elderly. For ten years shire-folk lived in fear of this menace stalking in the dark, aware it was at least one, if not more, of their own. In the heart of a shire Uachdaran called out to his fellow faol that mingling with the other sects of the slan is what brought this accursed punishment. Magic, he decreed, was uncontrollable and a danger to all.

Most didn’t give his youthful ignorance a second thought, especially once the attacks ceased and peace returned to the lands. But Uachdaran did not back away from his belief. He beat his breast in every shire, and gradually faol flocked to him. The once-few grew into an army driven by fear of the ‘feral’ side of our race. Before long he abandoned the forested valleys and took his followers into the craggy hills. Walls of stone, he demanded, would keep them safe from the influence of the ‘feral’ magic. Within the walls of the first city, populated only by faol, he invoked a harsh ritual. All who wished his protection must subject themselves to the thorn of the yellow rose. Once a slan is pricked the poison prevents magic, even shifting, for a full mooncycle. Cycle after cycle, his followers bound rose stems to their arms to prove their devotion. A sea of flowery yellow pennants twisted the wills of thousands.

In the shadow of his impenetrable city, others took up a similar cry until there were segregated cities of ‘rose pledged’ folk. Cities of solely brucach, or mangan. The land of Caledonia closed up behind walls of division where the ‘feral’ were treated with suspicion.

The fear of their ‘wild’ cousins manifested into a raging fire. Driven into a frenzy by the war drums of the self-declared nobility, who claimed to be protecting their followers, the battles began. Armored squads trampled and burned shires. Folk were dragged into the city walls and bound with thorns. Those who refused to be bound were slain. Bards and druids entered the cities at their peril. Attempts to ease the fear only resulted in torture, paws and jaws broken, bodies bound in thorns cast down like scree on the mountain to a long and lingering death. Most hid to protect the vast collected knowledge, leaving many shires to fend for themselves.

Through the spark of one panicked voice, a war spanned generations. Only shires veiled by the magic of defiant bards and druids evaded the painful fate as our race lost our blessing to the tongue of fear. Pierced by the thorns, the youth behind stone walls grew up never knowing what they truly were. Their suppressed gift became a horror story whispered by the hearth … the truth of the deadly decade buried and forgotten. All the collective heard was that a shifted slan is nothing more than a feral mindless beast. They gazed upon carvings on the walls of their proud armies slaying shifted beasts, never aware that the dire-wolf on the end of the lance was one their own kind. Kin murdered kin in a glorified procession of cleansing.

What a shameful lie. The shift steals none of our sense. But I tell you what can, fear. The tongue of an unchecked paranoid individual convinced there is a reason to hate can do more damage than any shifted beast ever has … and that is why, effectively, the race of slan is now extinct.

Here I am, centuries later, an immortal Traveler, burdened to keep the history and watch it ever repeat, again and again.

The world bows as one voice treats opinion as fact and drowns out all other reason. One paranoid voice drums up hatred without stopping to listen to anything but confirming echoes. One vengeful voice builds a wall against an imaginary threat, blindly dividing the world into countless shards.

I have witnessed civil war before. I have seen it eliminate a once thriving culture. Seen it destroy magic … and now, I hear the cadence of the war drums building again. The blind division born of ignorant fear, and already the panicked stand with stones in their hands ready to stack them.

Open your eyes! Please, I beg of you! This has happened before, in your time, not just mine. The candles are already blowing out, the light is dwindling. Rekindle the flame of true understanding, quell the hysteria that kills innocents. Only knowledge can banish the boogeyman before the vile whispers drive your blade into the heart of your brother, before you wall up your sister.

Once the poison of hysteria takes root, there is no going back.

So wake up, before it is too late. The entire human race is too precious to lose.

gorachillusionary

The Blessing

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Aiden clapped immense paws together before putting his shoulder to the stranded cart’s side. It groaned as the bear’s girth over-powered the sucking mud. He resettled the wagon’s wheel free of the rut. “There we are, Ceighan. You can hook the pony back up.”

The lynx tugged the pony from grazing in the sweet clover. “Don’t know what I would have done without your help. Been stuck all morning and hadn’t budged a smidge.”

No trouble at all. Always glad to help out a fellow slan. My da always told me that it didn’t matter; be it cugar or mangan, all slan are slan indeed.”

Ceighan took a sip from a wine-skin before offering Aiden some. “Heh, something I always heard to, ever since I was a whelp. How come we’re so different? Rather odd when you think of it.”

A voice called out from the bushes. “Depends on who you ask.”

They turned in tandem and stared through the bracken dappled with wild-berries.

A cross-fox padded out. Her black muzzle stained a deep purple as she sucked on fruit. “Mmm! Nice impromptu harvest. Would you gentle-beasts care for some?” Ealaidh held out a pawful of plump morsels.

Ceighan found his voice first. “A Traveler?”

Aye.” She bowed. “At your humble service. And it seems my ears are tickled by some folk who don’t know the birth of the slan. For shame, something that needs a remedy.” She pulled the pony’s reins free and waved him back to clover. “A sweet feast still awaits you, my friend.” With a gesture to the back of the cart, Ealaidh settled cross-legged on a field stone on the roadside.

The two hung their footpaws over the back of the cart and blinked at their strange visitor. They watched as she grasped her pendant. It vanished and a lute appeared in her paws.

Now, you’ve been told this before, but perhaps like many a young whelp with the attention span of a butterfly, you heard but did not listen.”

Ceighan and Aiden downcast their eyes and folded their paws before them.

I thought so.” She chuckled and began to pluck the lute. “Then listen now and learn. Back to the time when Caledonia had but the voice of dragon-folk, when only Io’s blessing had been bestowed … ”

Cernunnos, god of the forests, gazed upon the land. The mountain spires teamed with Io’s blessed race. The dragon-kin geilt walked on two legs, built elaborate halls, and sang Io’s praises from dawn until dusk. Not that Cernunnos suffered from Io’s vain streak, he felt it unjust that no other kind had a voice in this vast world. There was room for more.

One day, while Io remained distracted by his children’s chanting, Cernunnos leapt into the mortal realm in the guise of the great white stag. Perched in the highland crags, he bellowed out and summoned his own children. Lowly animals of the land shuffled through the forest to his call and gazed up at their god. At this time they all walked upon four paws, they grunted and growled without words, as the wild boar that ravages the woods to this day.

My children!” Cernunnos stared down at them. “I seek to bestow a blessing on you. But a blessing must be earned. Only the wisest among you will be deemed worthy. The beast who reaches me where I stand will receive my blessing on their kin.” With that, the god folded his legs beneath him to wait. For the cliff he had chosen was sheer. The task, improbable.

The beasts clawed and scrambled sending shards of stone down beneath them. Many quickly lost heart and left in a huff. Until only five remained. A rat, a bear, a lion, a wolf, and a badger struggled in the debris.

None could gain more than a body length before sliding down. Each one, determination in their eyes, stared up at the antler tips beckoning them to the top of the cliff.

The wolf paused and stepped back from the others, her muzzle wrinkled in thought. The rat scampered back and joined her. He climbed onto to her back and stared between her ears trying to glimpse what she was looking at. The bear and the lion arched up as high as they could, but they were far too short to reach. The wolf lifted her head against the weight of the rat. He clung to her fur, bracing against a tree branch. The badger glanced to the wolf just as she smiled, he shared the revelation as he glimpsed the rat.

The wolf padded up to the bear and nosed her shoulder. The bear cocked her head as she pushed the lion toward him and gestured atop his back. The lion blinked, and the bear scowled and took a swat at him. This got them nowhere. The wolf snapped her jaws and stretched out her length beside the two. Both the lion and bear measured themselves against her. They were longer.

The lion set his muzzle and leaped up on the bear’s back. Then the wolf climbed atop the lion and looked down to the badger. The badger scrambled up to stand on her shoulders. The last was the small rat, who clambered up to her head. One by one, the five stretched to their full length up the side of the cliff.

The rat’s claws gained purchase over the edge. He pulled himself up. But instead of bowing to the god, he grabbed a stout holly vine growing on a nearby tree and lowered it down. The badger caught the vine between her teeth and hauled herself up. She dropped the vine to the wolf, who did the same. And then the lion joined them, and at long last the bear.

Only when all five stood atop the cliff did they turn to face their god.

Cernunnos smiled. “My children, you have surpassed my hope. When this challenge had begun and the many turned away, I expected that none would pass. But you have all proven worthy. And so,” he bowed his head over them, “I shall bless you all.

The rat folk shall be radan.”

The rat’s hind legs lengthened until he stood on them, his paws gained a thumb. The squeak of his voice changed to words. Hair sprouted on his head.

Cernunnos turned to the wolf. “The clever canine folk shall be faol.

In a flash the wolf stood on her long hindlegs and flexed her thumbs. She embraced the rat with a wide grin.

And the burly bears shall be mangan.”

Gaining her new stature, the bear roared with laughter at her good fortune.

The god turned to the lion. “You and your kin shall be cugar.

Upon his hind legs the lion tucked his muzzle in his mane and bowed before the god.

To the badger the god smiled. “You have many kinfolk, be they badger, ferret, weasel, mink, stoat, or otter I bless them the same, your kin shall be brucach.” Cernunnos stood back as the five blessed knelt before him. “Though you are different, you reached your goal together. Always remember that, my children. You are my slan. Let all of you go by that name regardless of your kind. Blessed together, remain together.”

As your will, my lord,” they replied as one.

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A gathering of great minds, past and future.

Cernunnos raised his head and leapt into the starry heavens, vanishing from this realm. In his wake he left his children to inherit the fertile earth. Every shire throughout Caledonia is blessed with every kind of slan. Radan, faol, mangan, cugar, and brucach. We were all meant to be, all blessed by Cernunnos …

The lute’s music faded in the breeze. Ealaidh swept a paw over the instrument and it vanished back into the pendant. Ceighan and Aiden stared at one another, then at their paws.

And with that, my task is complete. I bid you good day, gentle-beasts.” Ealaidh pushed off from the rock and whistled a tune down the cart path.

Traveler!” Ceighan called, waving a paw. “Wait! What about the moon’s cycle? Why does it effect us so?”

She lingered in the path and tossed him a smile. “In three day’s time there is a bardic fest up at the odestone hill. I will be sure to sing of that story. Will I see you there?”

Oh aye!” He wrung his cap in his paws. “If you will sing, I will listen.”

Aiden cuffed his ear with a grin. “Daft fool, fallin’ for a Traveler. Her spirit won’t settle for yours, nor anyones. Come now, let’s get your pony back to the cart.”

Ealaidh twisted her ear at the truth of Aiden’s words. For tis true—the long and lonely road of a Traveler.

The Vagabond Spirit

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Life is not about destinations, but our on-going journeys. None understand this better then the slannic Travelers, for that is all these bards do; journey. As a new year breaks, where will your path take you? Choose wisely! For the stagnant decay in their idleness …

The Origin of the Vagabond Spirit

The embers glowed in the hearth of the shire’s great hall. Ealaidh’s whiskers twitched in the warmth of the pre-dawn sky. Even before she opened her eyes her footpaws shifted beneath her cloak. Her flesh itched and crawled, though there were no fleas in her pelt. She took in a deep breath and held it, her ear cocked to catch the rhythmic breathing of the shire-dwellers slumbering late from the previous night’s story telling.

Every breath was even. None betrayed that they were on the verge of waking.

As silent as an owl’s hunting flight, Ealaidh extracted her restless body from her cloak and rose. Securing the warm garment around her shoulders with the clasp, she gazed around at her fellow slan with a farewell smile.

Never long enough. But that was simply the way of it. She patted her traveling satchel and tip-pawed to the door.

A gasp stalled her passage, followed by the tramping of footpaws. A mob of whelps surrounded her. They pawed at her cloak and tunic, clinging to her like ticks as they rose in a chorus of cries. The same protests she had fallen victim to for close to a fortnight now.

“Don’t go! Stay Storyteller! Don’t leave us. You have to sing more. It’s too soon for you to go.”

Ealaidh dropped her arms from the now pointless stealthy posture and exhaled a puff of breath. Around her the remainder of the slumbering slan arose, rubbing their eyes with the backs of their paws in alarm, until they realized the source of the commotion.

An elder bear lumbered over and tugged his son back from the bard. “Now now, we mustn’t be rude and hinder our visitor. Gorach has stayed here nearly the breadth of a season.”

“We have an empty den, Da. She could make a home with us.”

Ealaidh’s ears swiveled back. “What a generous gesture. But I’m afraid I must refuse.” She knelt down to look the small bear in the eyes. “You see, I have already tarried too long. And though I love this shire, I must be on my way.”

“Are you going home?”

“That … would be impossible, wee one.” She clutched the kenaz pendant hanging from her neck. “You see … one such as I is not permitted to settle anywhere.”

His eyes widened in shock. He looked up at his father to whisper a bit too loud. “Is she homeless, Da? Is she a vagabond? Why?”

The elder bear blushed as he spied Ealaidh shifting away from them, her muzzle turned to the floor. “Son, don’t use that word … ”

“Oh no, he is quite correct. That is what we of Taliesin’s Bardic Circle are. Our footpaws are meant ever to tread, for the world is our home. If we should remain in one shire, how could we possibly play our role to keep and tell history? So you see, it is essential.”

“It must be hard.”

She laughed at the young one’s bluntness. “Well, yes. The road is often long and many stretches are lonely. But we must carry on so that we can meet fellows like you. If ever a Traveler defies the wanderlust promise, the price is dire indeed.”

A dozen pairs of paws tugged on her cloak. “Story! Story! Story!”

Ealaidh clamped her paws over her ears. Even her stout voice struggled to rise above the din. “Alright! One last story. But I must leave once I finish, and I trust you shall understand why.”

Despite the elder slan’s wince, the whelps tugged her over to the hearth and unceremoniously plunked her down. All gathered around at her footpaws as Ealaidh summoned a fiddle from her kenaz. The pendant glowed and vanished as the instrument appeared in her paws.

“Alright … the time I tell is ages ago. When the number of Taliesin’s chosen circle could be tallied on one paw.” She played a festive little ditty on the strings. “A cautionary tale learned by a bard we now know only as Caillte, for his truename is lost … ” Her voice faded as every creature fell into the images her song wove.

Caillte the rat wasn’t the first of Taliesin’s chosen ones, but he was among the first handful. Clever and resourceful, even for a radan, he sang a multitude of songs to the stones for their keeping. But he was not without fault, for no slan truly is. Over the decades Caillte discovered it harder and harder each time he donned his cap and bade farewell to a shire.

Though the road called to him, his heart weighed heavy on the soles of his footpaws. Never a home-shire, never a den, never a family ever again. For a Traveler must remain allied to all, never to one. A Traveler must favor no side, remain open-minded.

After countless turns of the seasons across all of Caledonia, one morning Caillte cooled his paws in a mountain stream and pondered his elongated life. For in exchange for a Traveler’s service to Taliesin, though the years may turn, time may never catch us. Hundreds of years Caillte had gazed into his reflection to find it ever-unchanging. He missed the shire of his birth and pined for a hearth to call his own.

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In defiance of Taliesin’s bitter warning, “Tarry not overlong, for the idle shall lose themselves,” Caillte traversed the land until he stumbled on his home-shire.

The years had taken his parents and siblings to their graves, as well as every whelp of every slan who once knew him. He passed through the hillside dappled with graven stones dressed in the spirals and patterns of the after-realm. Only for a moment did he spare at his parent’s stones.

He knelt down and smiled. “I am home.”

A crowd gathered around the bard as he descended the hillside through the heather. The shire cheered to as he declared he would remain, for though he knew none, they all knew of the famed master bards of the god Taliesin. What a stroke of fortune they should have to call amongst their own one of such eternal knowledge!

Or so they thought …

The seasons turned. At first the wisdom of Caillte was well regarded by even the most gray-whiskered elder. The shire prospered ages ahead of the neighboring villages. Word spread near and far and the population grew. Caillte warmed his footpaws each night by the flames of a hearth he called his own.

A year of seasons had not yet fully turned when one winter’s morn a bright blue wren flitted between the shutters to alight on Caillte’s chest. The slumbering bard murmured, but did not arise. The wren hopped up to his kenaz and eyed it with a scowl. He stabbed at the pendant. The stone scratched.

The little blue wren snapped a nod. “Idle paws have brought this fate. Price of wisdom paid too late. Wanderlust gnaws to the bone, bard who claimed and called a home!”

Caillte opened his eyes to the flutter of wings through the shutter. It was the last morn he knew who he was. As the day progressed, the shire-dwellers watched in dismay as the light in his eyes eroded. By dusk every shred of sense had ceased to be … and all that remained was the creature now dubbed Caillte the Mad.

The poor radan rattled off little more than nonsense from dawn until dusk, only ceasing his ramblings when slumber silenced his errant tongue. He stared at the scratched kenaz for hours with no knowledge of its significance, only that he had it for some reason that ever eluded him.

And continues to elude him to this day …

Ealaidh lowered the fiddle and let her own kenaz coalesce at her collar bone. She held it between her fingers. “Every Traveler ever since is burdened with his curse, Wanderlust. If we linger too long, who we are begins to unravel. Remain too long … and we too would be entirely lost.”

The bear whelp tugged on her brush tail. “But you’re not mad.”

“Not yet.” She smiled. “But the itches and twitches have begun. The road calls to my bones. No matter how weary I might be, now is the time for my journey to start.” Ealaidh rose and bowed. “Your shire has been gracious. Your hearth has been warm. But a Traveler has no home to call their own. Ado, my friends, until I wander this way again.”

Once more a whelp’s paw stalled her departure. A radan held his naked tail in the other paw as he tugged on her cloak. “Did … did … did you have a home-shire?”

Her heart skipped a painful beat. “Yes. Once a very long time ago I called a special glade my home. A time when I was no older than you. It has been many a decade since I laid eyes on it.”

“Why?”

Her tail swept the floor. “Because … there are stones on the hillside at which I cannot bear to gaze. There are stories that I was born to be a part of and because of a solemn vow … I could not be. Bless your heart little one. On your journey, pick your paths well.”

She turned and padded for the door as fleetly as she could manage, lest they spy the tears welling in her eyes. It was not until she reached the hilltop out of sight of the shire-dwellers that she dared to let her proud head droop to her chest beneath the weight of the solemn vow.

A flash of bright blue stole her attention. A wren with a cheeky grin alighted on her walking staff.

“I don’t need the reminder.” She swatted at him, pestering him into flight. “I’m on my way to everywhere and nowhere. Go on, get!”

The Legend of the First Frost

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The shadows have reached their longest. The longest night is come. And so the heart turns wistful and ponders myth and truth. Sit by the fire, friend. Sit … and ponder with me where the line between legend and truth blurs.

The Legend of the First Frost

Gorach’s claws coaxed the rollicking melody from the strings of a lute. In the midst of the Drumbeg’s great hall the shire’s whelps whirled and danced in the welcome firelight from the hearth. Many an elder slan’s footpaw tapped to the rhythm of the familiar tune as the cross-fox bard sang out the lilting verses.

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Oh the holly she bears a berry as red as is blood,

A reflection of the depth of the holly’s vast love.

The wisdom within her branches displayed for all to see.

And the first tree within the greenwood it was the holly.

Ho-lly. Ho-ol-lly, the first tree within the greenwood it was the holly.

Oh the holly she bears a berry as green as the pine,

Linked in the spirit as yours is to mine.

The wisdom within her branches displayed for all to see.

And the first tree within the greenwood it was the holly.

Ho-lly. Ho-ol-lly, the first tree within the greenwood it was the holly.

Oh the holly she bears a berry as white as the frost,

To remind us to keep in memory all we have lost.

The wisdom within her branches displayed for all to see.

And the first tree within the greenwood it was the holly.

Ho-lly. Ho-ol-lly, the first tree within the greenwood it was the holly.

She drew the last line of the verse out, staying her paw over the strings as she watched the whelps lean forward in anticipation. Their bright eyes locked and waited for the final chord. With a sly grin, Gorach strummed and finished swiftly.

Was the holly!

The whelps giggled in a chorus.

Gorach waved her paw across the lute and released the spell. In a flicker of green light the instrument vanished and the small hematite medallion re-materialized around her neck. The mark of the Traveler, her kenaz.

otterwhelpA little otter in a bright red tunic spun in a circle, clutching her hem. “Wook! Juss wike da bewwies! An’ youw tunic is wike da bewwies too!”

She ruffled the otter whelp’s flaxen hair and grinned before remarking of her own threadbare tunic. “Green like the pine. What an observant wee one you are. And here I thought you were just dancing instead of listening to me.”

The whelp reached a paw for the necklace around the bard’s neck. “I wanna twinket wike dhat! Can it make anyt’ing you want?”

Gorach laughed and let the little one’s fingers hold it briefly. “If a kenaz were that powerful, then there would be no suffering in this world of which to sing. No, there are limits. But from this marvelous stone I can draw forth any musical instrument I have ever laid my eyes upon.”

Every whelps’ mouth hung open in awe. At last the gregarious otter blurted out, “Dida dei … dei … deity give dhat to you?”

“Yes. A god named Taliesin gave this to me. As I’m sure you have all heard from the elders of your shire, there are many deities in our world. A Traveler such as I is tasked with keeping the stories of the world and recording them for all time to the stones.” She rubbed her footpaws. “I can never tarry long anywhere. Rather a paw-weary task to keep all the threads straight. Which reminds me, today is an important day.” Gorach pulled a tidy bundle of holly branches of all colors from her scuffed leather satchel and knelt before the hearth. The whelps clung to the hem of her patchwork cloak like a gaggle of geese following their mother. She grinned as every youthful eye watched her untie the holly boughs.

She held up the green bough to the hungry flames. “To remember that rebirth shall happen again.” Tossed to the flames, the holly branch blossomed with the fire. Next she pulled out the red. “To remember that change is essential for growth.” The flames ate this branch as well. Holding up the last, the white berries, Gorach bowed her head. “And to remember that even the stoutest must rest. Rhew, come grant the land its sleep.” The last branch whistled in the fire, an echo of the wind outside the shuttered windows. The once bright colored berries turned to an indistinguishable hue of black.

The little otter tugged on Gorach’s sleeve. “Who’s Rhew?”

With a cock of her head, she sank her claws into her own long hair and scratched her perked ear. “No one has told you of Rhew? Well, now! I’ll tell you what, t’will be a long night, and for but a mug of mulled wine I will trade the story of the first frost.”

A bobcat flashed her grin and dipped the ladle into the streaming pot by the fire. He filled the mug and handed it to his son who took it in both paws. The whelp watched the level of the maroon spiced wine sloshing back and forth. By the time he reached the bard’s side nearly every slan who had come to the great hall to listen to their visitor had settled in a wide circle. Many a whelp curled in the lap of their parents. Others sat in a group at Gorach’s footpaws, leaning forward as she took a grateful gulp from the mug.

“Oh, bless the brewer. Just what a parched throat needed.” She nodded to the bobcat now seated by the hearth with an expectant grin. With a wave of her paw over the kenaz she summoned a large harp, as tall as she was seated. Her tail shifted to make room for it, avoiding the heavy instrument. She released a cascade of shimmering notes from the strings and began her tale as she always did.

Her claws danced across the strings and teased out an ominous melody. “Hearken to me. Young and old. Those who remember, those who have lived, those who have yet to live. For the telling is the power of the ages. Voices of the past call out to teach, to inspire, to warn.” The accompaniment shifted to playful. “In ages past, before the first slan roamed the land, in the time before time, it was Io’s children who ruled the world instead of sharing it with Cernunnos’s, as now. The land was very different in that age … not the seasons as we know them, but an eternal world of bloom and color. And among the dragon-kin, creatures we would know … ” As she plucked the strings, the air began to shimmer in golden strands that formed into a diminutive wyvern swooping around the room. The illusion left the whelps and elders awestruck as the image built before them in translucent golden figures. “The sidh-wyverns. The god Io’s most mischievous creation. Most are known for flitting about the forests, playing pranks on the unwary wanderer. But not all. Like our kind, some have been chosen by their god for special tasks … and this is the case with Rhew.” Her voice drifted away as they fell under her spell and entered the world of ages past.

Of all Io’s children, from the dragons to the refined geilt, the sidh-wyvern were the most colorful of all. Created from the blossoms of the trees, the tiny winged dragon-kin bore scales of the most elaborate color combinations. Deep crimson reds blended with purples rich enough to rival the violet in full bloom. Azure blue of the rippling river shimmered beside greens as lush as any valley. The vibrant little beasts prided themselves on their hues.

It was to that shame that Rhew emerged from the boughs of the holly. Stark against the viridian leaves, Rhew’s scales were a pure white, his eyes blue as the columbine. The translucent membranes of his wings, instead of smooth, bore a patterned fringe unlike any other sidh-wyvern making them appear tattered. In place of the hardened scales at the end of his tail Rhew had a tuft of shimmering white hairs. The others had no idea what to think of their colorless cousin. Because of his markings Rhew discovered it was difficult to evade their aggressive dives from the trees. Too feeble in his youth to stretch into the sky, he clung to the dark recesses of the holly branches. He ate her berries and sought her thorns for protection.

As he grew over the years in the embrace of the holly, Rhew sprouted branched antlers on his head from two patches of white hairs that matched his tail. Each year his antlers gained a new point. Around this neck a rough of thick hair wreathed his chest and shoulders. The holly’s branches still fostered him in safety, though he had grown to nearly the size of a hawk, larger than his kin.

Unlike his cousins, Rhew did not shriek or squawk. Mute, he perched in the trees and cocked his ears to listen to the forest. By the time he bore six points on each of his antlers he huddled in the holly listening to her wisdom. Weariness pervaded her whispers. She longed to rest. Rhew nuzzled her leaves, taking care to avoid her thorns. He wished for her to find the peace she sought. Beneath his touch tiny shards of white sprouted.

Rhew pulled his head back and flapped his wings, taking refuge on another branch. What had he done? Had he harmed her?

From the holly gratitude washed over him.

Whispers traveled through the greenwood from the weary forest besieged by the frolicking of Rhew’s kin in their lush branches. A great longing for respite from growth called out to the sidh-wyvern. He glanced once more at the holly and cocked his head. Wreathed in the shining crystals, she remained grateful.

The shadows grew long over the land as night descended. In the cover of the dark, while his kin slept, Rhew shot from the protection of his beloved holly. His wings carried him high into the clear night sky. Beneath his broad flight, a blanket of delicate white bloomed and sparkled in the moonlight. Rhew marveled as his wings painted the world.

The forest breathed a sigh of relief as for the first time since creation the trees and plants rested in the grip of the gathering frost.

When the sun rose to cast golden rays on Rhew’s work, the breathless sidh-wyvern collapsed into the embrace of the sleeping holly. Io crept into his dreams and massaged Rhew’s weary wings as he spoke, “Blessed one, catalyst of the world. You were made to bring peace over a boisterous land. Your gift has brought the seasons to order. There is a time of abundance, and so there shall be a time when the earth must rest. Rhew, lord of the winter skies, bringer of frost. Each year your flight will mark the time of rest when the nights grow long and the days short. Others will come. But you are my first harbinger.”

By the light of day, the bright colored sidh-wyvern clung to the frost covered trees in shock as their bright colors betrayed them. Rhew flitted from tree to tree hardly noticed in the white-hued world. Flurries of delicate snow followed in his wake until one day a pale pink and green sidh-syvern burst from the branches of a cherry tree, the snow drifts melted beneath her flight into the first spring … rhewsidhwyvernGorach let the notes hang in the air. She watched the tendrils of sidh-wyvern shaped light entwine on a spiral path to the ceiling, until they evaporated. She folded her paws on the top of the harp and rested her chin there. “Thus began the steady dance of the seasons. A reminder that new growth always begins with sacrifice and loss.”

A bear whelp, years older than the otter, smirked. “Rhew isn’t real. That’s just a silly myth.”

“Really?” Gorach waved a paw and dissolved the harp back into the simple kenaz. She took another gulp of the mulled wine and padded to the window where she unlatched the shutter. Outside, shimmering in the moonlight, the world had been draped in a blanket of fine crystals.

The bear crossed his arms and shook his head. “No puny little sidh-wyvern did that.”

She held her paw out the window and waited. A few moments passed before fine snowflakes began to tumble into her paw. A pure-white, hawk-sized sidh-wyvern swooped down and perched on her arm, holding firmly with his black-tipped talons. He bowed his antlered head to the Traveler. Gorach placed a paw to her heart. “Bless you for granting the world its rest, Rhew.”

In a flurry of snow Rhew took to the air, countless smaller white sidh-wyerns flitted in his wake.

The bear whelp stood on tip paw, flakes drifting in to settle on his nose. “He’s real!”

“For the telling is the power of ages.” Gorach nodded to the bear whelp and smiled. “You’re right. He doesn’t do it alone. Not anymore.” She found herself crowded from the window by the hoard of whelps clawing to get a better look at the spirit of winter.

The cross-fox padded to the hearth side, letting the flame’s warmth kiss her paws. Before stopping in Drumbeg for the night, she had known the day would be her last one without the cover of snow. The holly had begun to whisper.


A blessed Winter Solstice to you and yours! May the turning of the seasons bring you peace and rejuvenation.

“Once Beatin’, Twice Die”

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samhainsidhewyvern

With the shift of the weather strange things creep in the darkness, creatures that hold the power to bespell us. The most dangerous monsters are not those shrouded in gore … they are insidious little beasts sidling up beside us with a smile.

Too late we learn to beware the cute and fluffy!

This All Hallows Eve curl up with my twisted tale that took second place in a Time Alone Press contest …


Once Beatin’, Twice Die

By Jennie Brass

quantumkitty

I clutched my pumpkin to my chest. Every jostle of the cardboard box I rode in threatened to dislodge my precious prize.

My pumpkin. No one could take it from me. I flexed my claws into the fleshy rind. The juice wicked into my fur. I purred.

The floor of my box dropped. I landed hard and rolled to the side with a hiss. A moment later her face appeared over the edge of the box. A face that looked like a frog had mated with a gourd. Madame Euphrasia.

I spat at her and flexed my claws into the pumpkin.

“Pooky, are you sure you want to go through with this?” She offered me a tight-lipped smile. “Come on now, it was a terribly long walk down here, to the Pumpkin Parlor. But I promise to forgive you.”

“Rowwwrrr!”

“Sweetie.”

I hugged my pumpkin tighter.

Madame Euphrasia reached up and adjusted her pointy hat. “Have it your way you little—”

My hackles rose. I fixed her with a glare.

“—darling.” She softened her expression.

My pumpkin. So soft and squelchy in my claws. Mmm.

The box rocked to the side and I tumbled onto the rust-tinted counter of the Pumpkin Parlor. Jack-o’-lanterns hung from the ceiling and cast a warm glow over the spirits floating to the tables delivering alcohol. The entire room glowed in shades of unbroken orange. Well, all save the patrons. The collective monstrosities seated all around were exempt from the color code. A pack of werewolves dressed in black leather perched on stools further down the counter devouring a rack of lamb. In the corner booth a stitched man resembling a burly rag doll slouched with a daisy in his hand. A cappuccino steamed before him.

Even though I had not been here long, I remembered this place. I craned my head to see if I could find that comfy wooden box I had once slept in.

A hand slammed the counter. Madame Euphrasia leaned over and glared at the swinging door. “Momordica! Momordica, you mountebank. This is your damn place. I know you are back there. Get your wiley ass out here right now!”

I scaled my pumpkin and curled around the coiled stem. The little curly twigs sproinged when I bat them with a paw. I liked that.

“Momordica. Come out before I go back there and drag you out. We need to talk about that sh—“

I hissed and skewered the pumpkin with all ten claws.

She gulped. “—sweet transaction we had the other day.”

Why did that crazy old coot have to raise her voice so much? Never, in all my nine-lives had I known such an unappreciative human.

The door squealed open and Momordica sauntered in, bedecked in shades of ochre. Even his top hat was a rich shade as he flicked it off his head with a bow. “Madame Euphrasia. Pleasant to see you this eve. How may I assist one of my finest patrons?”

Several of the customers narrowed their eyes before returning to their meals.

I resumed playing with the curlicues. Twang. Twang. The hollow gourd responded with a thump. Thump. Thump.

“There is a problem with Pooky. It must be remedied immediately and with great care.”

Momordica glanced down at me and widened his golden eyes. “The darling kitten I sold you just a fortnight ago? He looks perfectly healthy. And I assure you that black cats are all the rage as witch’s familiars. Give him a bit more time. He’ll grow on you.”

She balled her fists and gave me a sideways glance. A bead of sweat rolled down her knobby brow. “I am running out of time. The little bea—creature won’t obey. This is serious, Momordica.”

Obey, schmobey. It’s not like she’d asked nicely. I rubbed my cheek against the stem of the pumpkin and purred. The hollow reverberated, thump, thump, thump. I wanted to open it. But it was too soon. Too soon to look see.

“Madame Euphrasia, Pooky is just a sweet little kitten. What harm could he manage aside from stealing a ball of yarn?”

“You see that pumpkin?” She smiled like someone pulled her lips apart with fish hooks. “He won’t give it back.”

“A pumpkin?” He burst into laughter. “A pumpkin? I have a whole field of pumpkins. What kind do you wish? Let Pooky keep that one.”

“You don’t understand.”

Light flickered through a glass of whiskey on the counter. Pretty. Must become mine. I slid down the side of the pumpkin and kept my tail brushing against it. With a paw I ticked the side of the glass.

It vanished. But the liquid remained. An amber puddle spread over the wood and dampened Momordica’s gloved fingers.

Where the glass was now … was it half empty? Was it half full? Was there even a glass in the first place? If I looked I would know and that would spoil everything. Ohh, my tail is moving. Must get the tail.

He leaned back. “Remarkable!”

“You see? This is no normal cat.”

“Well, of course he isn’t. He’s a witch’s familiar now.”

“But I didn’t teach him that damn trick. You need to understand what he’s stolen.”

I leapt back onto the pumpkin and licked my paws taking care to get between each claw. She flinched as I eyed her.

Momordica leaned forward.

“He’s stolen my heart.”

He laughed so hard he ceased to breath for a moment. “Aww, now that’s so sweet. He’s not a bad kitty. He’s a miracle worker. Who would’ve known you even had a heart?”

“It’s not funny!” She tore open the first few buttons on her dress collar to reveal my claw marks on her flesh. “I mean he literally stole the damn organ!”

I arched my back and rowled deep in my throat.

“The sweet, darling animal! I mean, he cares so much … but … but … I need it back. Momordica, I think he has it in the pumpkin. I have no idea how he did it. Where did you find him?” Her face grew pale as a saucer of milk.

Mmm, milk.

He took a few steps back eyeing me. I sunk my claws into the flesh of the pumpkin. My pumpkin. Thump thump, thump thump.

“I found him in a box in the graveyard. Poor thing was half alive, half dead. I carried him here not having any idea if when I opened the box he’d still be here.”

Thump thump. The beat in the pumpkin stuttered. Oh dear. Thump thump … thump … THUD.

She dropped to the floor.

I sighed and abandoned the pumpkin on the counter. No point in looking now. I already knew the answer.

Momordica grabbed it and smashed it open with his fist. Crimson mingled with orange pulp, the witch’s heart cradled in the core. Apparently my touch can only sustain an organ for so long. Who knew.

He looked at me. I glared back before raising a paw to groom off the pumpkin pulp.

“Who would’ve known! Tell me, Pooky, why did you do that?”

Curiosity. I leapt back into the box and pulled the flaps closed. Memories of a past half-life tumbled back to me. The inside of a box, and the musings of a human named Schrodinger.


Happy Halloween!

The Strength of Empathy

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“You have no idea! So … so don’t even try to understand!”

The storyteller in me cringes at these words.

Oh yeah, hi, it’s me, Ealaidh the bard sticking her paws into the blog again for a very important reason. I’ve been looking around at human exchanges and recognized a pattern, oh an age old troubling pattern, that makes my fur stand on end. Why? Because this only ends in division. I’m just saying, it’s time to talk.

By talk I mean truly talk, not shut each other out. There are people claiming that they are being misunderstood and using the most dead-end statements in existence. “You aren’t/don’t have ____ so you can’t possibly understand what it is to be ____. So, unless you only say ______ you are against me.”

Ok … so please tell me, how is a sympathetic individual supposed to respond to such a statement? Shall I crawl under a rock in shame? Shall I apologize profusely for someone else’s assertions before they get to know me which label me as committing a crime I haven’t committed? Well, the answer is a solid nope. And here is why. Because being different doesn’t default me to being wrong.

While I may not have walked in the accuser’s proverbial shoes, there is a skill that allows perspective.

Empathy.

That’s right. Empathy. A skill that everyone who has ever been enthralled with a book, or been moved by a character on the big screen is familiar with. Writers and storytellers employ this skill to extremes. After all, if every character in a story was a carbon copy of the author’s experiences it would a pretty boring tale.

Empathy allows the author to consider how someone in a different walk of a life experiences the world around them. By listening, reading, and processing the words of others an author can delve into the mind of someone with PTSD, explore a five-year old seeing the ocean for the first time, or even see through the eyes of a senior citizen dealing with the fear of being abandoned. We can use empathy to see the perspective of heroes and villains, rich or poor men, historical or futuristic. We can walk for a bit as another ethnicity or gender. It’s carried readers into the minds of dogs, onto the wings of dragons, on vast migrations with extinct dinosaurs. This isn’t a small feat–but the fact is most of humanity accomplishes this well when influenced to try it.

This is a powerful experience that enables growth. And good writers go beyond the stereotype. They dig into the thought process of that character, that life, and let it speak to them. This is true empathy. Extrapolating from personal life experience we can level with someone else’s situation. That can move a spirit to align–and it’s a helluva lot more powerful of a motivation than a shaming verbal assault.

But I am slan, I am not human. How can I possibly comprehend?

In ages past, within the slannic species, the god Cernunnos created a wide variety. Even within just the faol, or those who are canine based, there were wolves and foxes. Taking it smaller and just looking at the foxes, there were many different colors of markings and kinds. There were reds, greys, blacks, crosses, the arctic and fennec. Beautiful colors with personalities as varied as markings. Some lived blessed lives without a care, others struggled for every breath. But beneath the fur we all shared one thing in common: we were all fox.

Each one of us sang a different part in the chorus of life. All the parts together made up the symphony of life. A varied masterpiece that moves us all with the power of compassion.

Talk, sing with one another, build the harmony that will move the world. Don’t hold up a hand and silence a harmonizing voice just because they aren’t exactly like you. A kind invitation to those different from you see the world through your eyes will go miles further and foster growth than declaring they will never understand. Give them a chance, they may already understand more than you are aware. Some mean what they say when they speak out for true equality.

Humanity, you all different by some degree. And that is what unites you as a single race.

The Troubling Division

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The floodgates have opened. Social media is drowned in a deluge of outrage, terror, fear, rage. Washed away in the torrent is the one thing the world needs: reason.

ForAll

In recent years equality has become a major topic. And it should be. There is no doubt that right now society is a mess. There is a disturbing current of incidents going on. Yes, it is fueled by problems poisoning the social structure. Let’s face facts, shit is happening to good people because of things they can’t (or shouldn’t have to) control. You know what I mean: ethnicity, religion, gender, age, socio-ecomic class, etc.

So, a spark gets ignited somewhere, people start to talk, memes get posted and then, oh God—the flame wars! “How can you support THEM?!” “Don’t say it that way!” “If you say that you are WRONG!” “Why are you sharing THAT meme?” “Kill all those (insert hot button topic here, you’ve seen this before).”

The sad part is the reading between the lines. To see good people arguing over simple words when in truth they are after the same end goal. At least I think that’s what we’re after … equality … right?

There is reason I pause and stumble there. The reason is this. I have witnessed people flat out called racists for offering support to the whole human race.

Yes. Please stop and process that for a moment. Let me repeat:

“You are a racist if you share a meme that supports uniting all of humanity.”

I hang my head. Is unity not the end goal? Or have I got it wrong? Often people who share solidarity are approached with statements concerning how it undercuts the movement and dismisses the problem ignoring the issues. We hear the burning house analogy.

Well, folks. Guess what, there is more than one ‘burning house’. The root of the problem is bigger than any one ethnicity. In fact it is far more reaching than ethnicity alone. Pardon me for acknowledging them all instead of focusing on one and one alone.

Now, I could list all the houses individually. But if I started that list would be immense. When I condense it and say that all lives matter it is because I yearn for society to progress toward the true goal where every human being is seen as just that: a fellow human being. We shouldn’t be breaking it down into groups for any reason. We are all members of … wait for it …

One. Human. Race.

Here’s an example of a meme that triggers the response. It says: “All cops aren’t bad, all African Americans aren’t thugs, all whites aren’t racists. If we come together and unite as one, we can be an unstoppable force.” What is the problem with sharing this? Which statement isn’t true? Are all cops bad? All African Americans thugs? All whites racists? Is uniting a bad thing? Seriously, how is this undermining moving toward equality?

Running agility with my dogs has taught me something about basic communication. In agility when you run focusing on the problem often you will accidentally send your dog on that mistake. However, when you approach the course with your goal in mind, i.e. the intended obstacle, you stand a better chance of success.

This is a life lesson that applies to the human animal as well. Let’s face it folks, we are not vegetables or minerals. We are animals too. We work better focusing on the positive which makes the end goal easier. But doing that does not mean we are ignoring the underlying problem. We are merely looking at the bigger picture, working toward the end goal. Equality. For everyone. Please don’t try to shame others into focusing on one group’s needs, and only theirs. Personally, I give a shit about the rights of all human beings regardless of who they are so long as they treat others with respect. I feel it’s terribly biased to be told only to post about one.

The one thing that these accusations does accomplish is pushing barbs into the sides of people who are actually supportive of progress. Rather than arguing semantics with a supporter, save the history lessons for those who need it, the ones who clearly segregate. If we want true equality we need to stop the divide and unite as

One. Human. Race.

The Legacy of Fear

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A sword can slay whatever lies in its path. But fear is a devastating weapon, it cuts down lives generations down the path in a journey without end.

innercirclebards

A gathering of great minds, past and future.

That ancient adage clings to my slannic mind of late. I mourn for your world, humanity, because as a Traveler I know where this is headed. The true-master bards have not seen your fate specifically, but we have seen the signs before, ages past, in our kind. Mark me well …

For many ages slan lived a peaceful existence in shires nestled into the woodlands. Our kinds intermingled and hardly gave mind to our differing races. Whether we were cugar, mangan, faol, radan, or brucach mattered not – the god Cernunnos had made us what we were: all of us slan. The shires grew in number, our culture thrived, and we bards enjoyed revelry much of our days. Only rarely were we asked to sit judgement over a petty crime. Slan were free to pay homage to whichever deity they pleased. Free to select their mate regardless of race or talents. It was a legacy of prosperity. Our society was rich beyond compare …

… until the harmony faded into discord.

The wave started small. An aftershock from a tragic event involving magic. One voice cried out in fear that the ‘beast’, though concurred, would re-emerge! Why? Because the event proved any one of us could be turned against slan. The magic of the shape-shift, a gift from the gods to heal and restore, embodied the paranoia that could come hunting in the night. A beast sent to slaughter. Magic, a part of us all, became the first target of fear.

The voice fostered that fear and the flocks came in droves. More voices cried out and pulled into further divisions. Soon, those who turned their backs on the once-ways built stone walls to protect them from their wild and primitive ‘enemies’. Each stronghold divided by race, unwilling to let a faol live amongst a brucach, or a mangan amongst the cugar. Their world became shattered into fragments guarded by swords and pikes, shielded by armor against corruption of their own decree. They selected which deities the whole of their population would follow. And in an effort to kill magic they poisoned the blood of every subject, stealing any chance they would have of becoming their true selves. For they were afraid the beast within would tear through and stalk the night!

In the shires we clung to one another, intermingled and distraught as our world was decimated. Fires burned in the valleys when the armies marched to force the followers of the once-ways into death or blood-poisoning. Magic-talents slaughtered by the thousands not by sword or poison, but by fear.

The words resonated through the generations. Parent taught whelp to hate those different in race, creed, and talent. The flames of hatred divided us … yet we were all still slan. They just refused to see it. A magic that healed and restored, a magic that was at the core of our ancient spirits, lay twisted into the dark saga of a beast to be feared. A creature to be banished. It became law that any who tapped that sacred well and refused to suppress their ability must be put to death.

The hillsides, stripped of their once ancient forests, became populated with nothing more burial cairns.

The bardic circle watched as time eroded the society we had been birthed in … until it vanished. For once the shire-born slan were eradicated, the strongholds turned on one another. Their society born of fear of an enemy, they created a new monster to slay.

We watched our world die at the hands of ignorance and fear. We watched as kin slayed kin over misunderstanding and superstition. We watched as belief drove hundreds to slaughter out of hatred.

We bore witness to a legacy of fear spread unchecked until all that remains of the slan is the memories sung to the stones … our songs. The funeral durge instead of a celebration of our once vast diversity.

Humanity, the world is in your hands now. Daily cries go up of the atrocities perpetuated against one another. Regardless of their reason: creed, race, religion, gender, orientation, job, age … why do these unreasonable divisions keep festering anew? You are all human at the core … just as we were all slan.

A legacy of fear … is all that humanity will leave behind?

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Ealaidh, the Traveler

Symbols that Build, Symbols that Break

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BardicSummons

“When you look what do you see? … don’t fear to look deeper.” ~Ealaidh

Welcome back.

I just finished the most amusing discussion with my human friend about symbols. We’ve all heard that old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, likewise a symbol can embody complex ideals.

Take the kenaz for example:

Kenaz

This rune is vital to the slannic bards. Displayed on necklaces, it tells others that we serve our race as lore-keepers, judges, and entertainers. Even the material the pendant is made from is significant. A novice bard’s is made from leather. A master bard’s, carved from wood. If one is a Traveler, or a true-master bard selected by the god Taliesin, the kenaz is comprised of a special metallic stone imbued with special properties.

What special properties, you ask? Well, all a Traveler need do is think of an instrument and the kenaz becomes it. Whether you want a drum, a tin-whistle, a harp… or even in modern times, yes–an electric guitar. It’s a convenient way of ensuring we aren’t burden by an veritable orchestra of instruments.

You can imagine, wandering on footpaw that would become quite heavy.

There is a danger to wearing the kenaz as well. For when everyone knows that you are a source of logic and reason, you quickly become a target during upheaval. There was a time when we Travelers had little choice but to cast a guise over our runes for our very survival.

Like my experience with the mixtured nature of symbols, my human friend reflected on a story of a man who became defined by them. She has been recording some lost chapters of his life for the world to come to know the core of this man.

From his birth, Erik hid his face behind a mask.

PhantomMask

He had every reason, for despite his extraordinary gifts, he was disfigured and the world was reviled his monstrous face. But his spirit craved beauty. He collected things that fascinated him. He accumulated the most astonishing skills to build devices and buildings that left onlookers in awe.

None of it mattered. The world only saw the mask– the monster beneath.

Weary of humanity’s game and heartsick after the loss of his greatest treasure, Erik exiled himself and tried to begin a-new. Only in America he found that his strange mask was not the only barrier.

Here he was an immigrant! Though he may have brought a meager fortune with him, the shine of the coin mattered nothing. He was an immigrant to be confined to the Bowery ward for that reason above any other.

This new world underestimated his ambition to create. Fettered by society’s bias Erik put his boundless spirit into one goal–sharing his visions with the world through his architecture.

Against the odds he earned enough to commission the one thing he would need to show the elite he was a gentlemen. His signet ring.

ErikSignetSilverOnline

The silver compass: a tool gifted to him by his stone-mason mentor. The most prized possession of an architect essential for creating master works.

The quill: the writing utensil that documented his other passion, music.

And of course his one and only initial: E. For Erik possessed no sir-name. Despite this, he claimed the status of a gentleman by his own merit.

Mask and signet. Shield and pennant. Sometimes they protect us, sometimes they define us. Sometimes they endanger or even fight us!

For Erik, his symbols have been all of these… if you like to read his story, my human friend has been recording it here: Nightingale’s Odyssey

Until next time, my friends.

We ever remember

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EalaidhCampfire

We’ve been waiting for you. Come sit by the bonfire for a spell. I bid you welcome.” Ealaidh, the Traveler, reclines on her elbow, her fingers tap a rhythm on her knee. The fox’s half-closed eyes idly watch the silhouettes celebrating in joyous abandon as you join in.

An eerie whistle from inside the heated wood carries above the chattering of the gathered shire. Shadows distort the features of the excited slan. Young and old, the generations gather in a cacophony that mirrored all of life. The shire-beasts of all kinds dance around you without a thought of the morrow.

Ealaidh swallows a mouthful of mulled wine before offering a mug to you. “Drink deep, for tomorrow the road beckons onward, and nothing is promised in the hidden bends.”

A little wildcat whelp skips up to the fire. The flames illuminate her a brilliant orange. Her father ambles behind, leaves tangled in his fur and the gleam of sweat on his fur.

Her bright eyes turn the fox’s way. “Da, there’s the true-master bard right there. Do you think she’ll tell tonight?”

He shrugs. “Little one, our shire has a bard. You’ve heard lots of stories.”

The whelp shakes her head and tumbles down into the grass before the reclining Ealaidh. “Yes Da, we’ve heard lotsa stories, but they say that she shows them.”

Ealaidh winks.

Is it true? Can you make air art?”

The bard laughs and tussles the whelp’s hair. “Air art. What a fanciful description of my skill, young one.”

Can you?”

Paint illusions of the tales of old? Why yes. That is my gift. And on this magical night when the veil has thinned between realms you have but to request of me. I, as a Traveler, am ever at your service.”

Ealaidh bows her head in servitude sending the whelp into a fit of laughter into her paws. “Da, she bowed to me.”

He takes a seat beside you. His daughter plops into the hollow and nestles in. A moment later his wife snuggles in beside them. Slan by slan the entire shire gather in the reach of the fire, drawn by the promise of something to behold. The illusionary talents of their legendary guest. Ealaidh did not miss the glint of firelight off the local bard’s runic necklace. No malice in his eyes, only awe.

Ealaidh rose into a seated position. Addressing the gregarious whelp, she sets her mug aside. “Well, what tale would you like to hear?”

The wildcat’s ears twist as she chews on a claw. “How did all this get here?”

Her father’s paws smooth down her fur. “You know the shire’s story, sweetie.”

Not here.” She points at the ground.

Ealaidh holds a paw up. “I know what she means. A broad vision for such a wee-little beastie. But if she wishes to know how the world came to be, then this eve she shall learn. And not some vague summary … but from the deities themselves.”

Her eyes open wide. “You’ve met the gods and goddesses?”

I have stood within their realm, many of the bardic circle have.” She brings her paws together. “Sgath herself shared with me the beginning. If you will journey with me, look …”

In the spaces between the flames the shimmer of images dance at Ealaidh’s bidding.

In the beginning there were deities.

Their immaterial realm was of pure magic and the deities were the divine masters. At a mere thought anything could be created … or destroyed. Each god or goddess had their own unique talents. No one was ruler over any other. For mortals it is the most splendid of dreams to have ones every whim at their fingertips.

Yet, forever is a long time. A long time with nothing tangible to show for it. Even the deities were not immune to the grind of time. In their realm … everything was transient.

Sgath painted with shadows, unsatisfied with her efforts. There was no substance in these creations.

Belenus leaned over her shoulder, running his fingers down the dark fabric of her tunic. “I know what you need, Sgath. Light always adds depth to the shadows.” With that he spread his arms wide and a great ball of light blazed.

There is no point to this.” She waved her work away in a wisp of darkness. “In all these eons what have any of us done that has remained?”

He winked. “Made little gods and goddesses. Is that what you need? I would be willing to fulfill your every desire.”

She pushed his face away.

Well, if not me, then perhaps another. Tannus has been a tempest lately, perhaps he would be sufficient to quell your desire.”

I am not in the mood. There are enough of us wandering around and creating dreams and mischief. Perhaps … we need something different to watch. Something besides one another.”

Addanc, the great serpent, reared up to his full height and hissed. “Forgive me, I could not help but be drawn by the heat of Sgath’s plight. I agree that perhaps we have squandered our gifts for too long. Alone, we can do no more than fashion wispy visions. But together, perhaps we can make something that lasts. Not here. Not within our plain. I propose we try our magic in another.”

Belenus eyed the serpent. “What are you thinking?”

It is not myself alone, others have spoken as well. Tired of twisting mere clouds to their whims. They wish to try something more permanent beyond our borders. A plain where we can set things in motion and watch what happens.”

Sgath chuckled. “I hear a little of Io’s ego in those words.”

Yes.” Addanc’s tongue ticked his fangs. “He is among those impatiently waiting. It is agreed, without the light,” he looked to Belenus, “and the dark,” he now eyed Sgath, “there is nothing. It would be hopeless. What say you?”

Belenus and Sgath could not see where there would be harm in trying. After all, what was created could be destroyed.

They summoned Aerten and asked her to hold open a portal to another plain.

Nothing. It was a great void.

Belenus chuckled. “Sgath, you should like this place. It’s your favorite color.”

Ahhh, but what is dark with light?”

With a smile he brought forth a ball of light and threw it into the void. On its journey, sparks shot off in all directions. The sun and the stars took up their place.

Addanc slithered through the portal carrying clouds in his coils. Sliding his massive body into a ball, he bit his own tail. He squeezed the clouds into a vast mass beneath. Three times three he slithered around the ball. When at last he loosened his grip the entire surface was awash in waves. A brilliant ball shining blue in the star strewn sky. His tail whipped the earth and it spun on its axis, carried in a great circle around the sun.

Tannus eyed the creation and shook his head. “This will not work, Addanc. Unless all can swim as you. And I daresay that was not how Cernunnos nor Io saw it.”

You have an idea how to improve it?” panted the serpent. “Have at it, Windbag.”

Without another word Tannus blew a mighty wind upon the earth. Clouds drifted up into the sky carrying moisture with them. Dry land emerged from the depths. Over his shoulder the rest of the deities gazed down at this raw potential with hungry eyes.

Morgay and Amaethon leapt down onto the land. Together they danced. Where their feet touched the ground plants shot up. Magog took immense handfuls of land and pushed them up into mountain ranges. In the valleys left behind Latis scooped up water to fill the lakes and rivers.

Sgath peered down at this beautiful landscape and admired it in the light of the sun. However, when it turned to the darkness, not even her eyes could see. She beckoned Arainrhod to her side. “My soft-hearted daughter. Would you be so kind as to watch over the earth in the night?”

Arainrhod embraced her mother and drifted down into the night sky. Her silvery hair cast a glow onto the dark land. Now the terrain played out in soft light and shadow.

Both Cernunnos and Io reached out over the land.

Stand back, scaley one!” Cernunnos tipped his horned head to shadow the earth. “I will show you how this is done!” All manner of wild beasts sprung forth from the land. Beasts that roved on all fours, or swam in the waters, or flew through the sky. Unicorns and gryphons, even the mighty horiequine roamed the world.”

You call that life?” Io snorted, the scales on his snout twisting in disdain. “Watch this.” Concentrating hard, he flexed his claws until from the mountains burst forth creatures in his likeness. Dragons. Dragons of various colors, and even some smaller kin.

For a time the deities watched the world turn. They watched the creatures bounding after one another in the battle for life. All the while Cernunnos and Io made jests about one anothers contribution. Io flicked his claws in frustration and from a rocky cairn the geilt crawled forth. He had traded the dragons vast size and made them smaller, walking on their hind limbs. The geilt were wiser, forging great fortresses of stone in their mountain outcrops.

Cernunnos scowled at this new development. The dragons had already been dominating his own creatures. Many dragons had destroyed entire valleys with their natural talents. So he put forth a challenge to his own creations. Five beasts mastered his call by working together. A wolf, a wildcat, a badger, a bear, and a rat. When his horns touched their heads the beasts rose up onto their hind legs and become the first slan. They grew plentiful on the earth, settling in shires nestled in the forested lands. Guardians, he had called them. To watch over the world.

Taliesin had witnessed all this transpire. There was no force that would keep him from playing with the other deities hard work. In the shape of a bright blue wren he flitted about, spying on the geilt, whispering into the ears of the slan. And in time he knew what he would give to the world.

For all the gifts that we have given to this mortal plain, this Earth, they do not remember from one to the next. Cernunnos, Io, your creations are lovely, but they live in the moment. They keep not a memory of the days before.”

You cannot change that,” Io huffed. “Besides, it wouldn’t matter.”

Ahh, but it does. And since you have slighted me, your children will be slower to learn this lesson. They will have the slan to thank. Just watch.”

From the branch of a tree, the little blue wren sang. His music drifted to the ears of a slannic youth. Some bent to his will, and answered his call.

The first bard was forged.

Came song, came story, came history. Or else none would know these words or see these visions.

The deities gazed down upon the Earth watching how each day played out. Their fingers nudging at their whim. Fate is just the will of a bored god or goddess. It has been so since the dawn of time, and with their hunger for entertainment will remain so until the very end.

The shimmering outlines vanish into the night as Ealaidh lapses into silence. Shire-beasts star with wide eyes at the radiating light of the fire.

At long last, the shire’s bard places his paws over his heart and bows his head. “By the immortal words.”

Ealaidh twists her ears back and closes her eyes. She returns his gesture and completes, “We ever remember.”

She opens her eyes and looks to you. “So tell me, how did you think the world was made?”