“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.”
“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.”
“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?”