Passing the Mantle

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Passing the Mantle

By Taliesin’s decree, a Traveler is never supposed to linger in one place for too long. But the branches of the pine cradled my body like Cernunnos himself made them specifically for my napping. Sheltered from the blanket of snow with my weary footpaws free of the clinging frozen slush, I reclined in those swaying boughs dreaming the full cycle of a moon away … or more. I’m not precisely certain how long fate plotted to disrupt my urge for perpetual slumber.

But disrupt my sleep it did!

SCHLOOMP!

“Gah! That’s cold!” Every limb of my body thrashed as half melted slush crawled in rivulets through my fur chilling cozy warm flesh. The boughs parted, swaying violently in my startled protest. My tail spun, fighting to catch my weight as it slid precariously off my make-shift bed. Claws caught the bark and tore off strips as I swore through the list of gods for the rude wake-up. I made it to my pledged master by the time I managed to save my rump from a potentially majestic fall. “Taliesin if you have anything to do with this I’ll spin your legend with far more truth than your shining image can endure you piece of—”

My tirade faltered as two pale shadows screamed through the forest. Ahh the squeaking rage of two sidh-wyverns, discordant music to the ear. Crouched on the branches of the pine, I parted the needles and peered in the direction they had gone. By nature the tiny dragon-kin were known for feistiness, but this ceaseless chittering dialog betrayed something more.

Overhead a small body plunged and tumbled into the pine bows. I glanced up into the dappled rays of sunshine just in time for Rhew to land sprawled on his back in my lap. The winter-bringer shook the snow from his antlers, his spindly wings snapped warmth against my thigh. He bared his tiny fangs and released a full throated war cry out to the forest. His talons punched against my tunic-covered gut as he fought to right himself. Thankfully the suede held.

“Oww! Hey!” I grabbed onto his tail and held him despite his wild flapping. “Rhew, what has gotten into you?”

He turned and snapped at my paw.

I flicked his nose, leaving him to shake his head with a snarl. “Knock some sense into that rutting head of yours. Now what in the stars is going on?”

Once more he made to scramble for the open air. Rage burning in his bright eyes, he screamed again.

A scream answered. Not an echo. This pitch was higher. A tail flick later a pastel blur swooped down, talons tearing at the pine needles and flinging them. Rhew wrapped his wings around his body, ducking his head inside. Even in the brief glimpse afforded me through the gaps I had noted the bud-like horns on the top of the pink and green mottled sidh-wyvern.

“Ah, I see now.” Nodding slowly, I kept my hold on Rhew’s tail. “Cinnich’s awake now. Well, you know what that means.”

He stretched his wings and a shower of icy flakes sprang into the air.

“Now, don’t be like that. You’ve had your season. The world has slept. Now it is time for you to sleep while Cinnich wakes the earth and brings forth life again.”

Rhew hissed and clacked his teeth. His tail wriggled in my gloved paw.

Smiling at his defiance, I stroked his back until the rigid scales began to lie flat. “That’s enough from you, lord of the winter winds. If you remain in command there will be no thaw, no food. Every beast that relies on the land for harvest would starve, which is most of us who dwell in Caledonia. All that would be left would be you and your subordinate winter sidh-wyverns. The world would be a lonely place for you. It’s Cinnich’s time to paint the land in life.”

Cinnich spiraled into the branches and landed a wingspan away. Her thorned brows knit as she chattered at him. Soon both chirruped back and forth in a maddening cacophony. I held up a finger to her and snapped, “Enough! You’re not helping.”

She flared out her wings and shrieked.

Moss and lichen sprung forth on my muzzle. I stared cross-eyed at it. “You really don’t know when to stop, do you? Neither one of you.” Brushing off the odd growth before it could take root, I grumbled, “First snow in places that that haven’t felt a chill all winter, and now being treated like a rotting log. The things a Traveler must deal with. You would think that two spirits of the elements would have enough sense to manage themselves. But no. You two have to bicker about the turning.”

Rhew, still held firmly at bay by my paw, growled and flexed his talons. Cinnich behaved no better, sticker her tongue out.

“By the moss on a river stone! You two are not hatchlings. But if you insist on behaving as such, I’ll lullaby both your tails into a deep sleep and we’ll just skip your seasons for a few years!”

Both of them whipped their heads my way, eyes wide. Not one peep.

“That’s better.” I released Rhew’s tail, he clambered up onto a branch and adjusted his wings. His eyes puckered as he gazed longingly out to the sunshot day. “I know Rhew, you are a fine painter of winter. And your craft is essential. But it is brief. Now you mush rest until the land calls for you again. The earth has summoned Cinnich, it is time for warmth and renewal. Let her perform her rituals. Pass the mantle, old friend. Just for now.”

Gradually he bowed forward, scale by scale overlapped on his neck until his head dipped below the branch he perched. The light dwindled in his eyes. A single tear flowed down his cheek, trembling on the edge of a scale. Cinnich’s wings stretched out. The horn buds on her head unfurled into flowers, giving rise to the twin fern fronds uncurling. All along her pink scales mottled by moss green brindling tiny white blossoms spread their petals as her colors intensified. Beside me on the branch Rhew’s once snow white scales lost their sheen, now faded and gray as he tucked his head beneath his wing.

“Less than a year isn’t so long for an immortal. Before you know it the world will call on you again.” I gathered his already sleeping body into my arms and nestled him into the protection of my abandoned pine boughs. “Rest well, oh lord of the winter winds.”

Cinnich

Cinnich flitted out onto the warm breeze, the sun shimmering off her blossoming body. Below me the snow pack retreated, vanishing in the breath of her wing beats leaving behind a carpet of verdant green. I dropped down into the new growth grateful for spears of grass beneath my footpaws. The cheeky sidh-wyvern of rebirth swooped down and struck me with her wings. Her vibrant eye winked at me as she chirruped in delight. The forest launched into answering cries as countless bright bodied sidh-wyverns answered her call, winging into the wood and to spread her magic. Spring arrived.

My footpaws itched with the familiar tingle that had been my constant companion over these many years, too numerous for my liking to count. The wanderlust called me no lesser than the earth summoned Cinnich to wake her. Grasping my walking staff, I heaved a sigh and took the first steps into the new turn of the season … into the same old, same old.

Summer, autumn, winter, or spring, the road is ever my home.

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The Healer’s Moon

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Healer’s Moon

The eyes of every slan stared out across the snow-riddled fields locked in the solid shadows of the night. Paws gripped the tree roots that formed the door frame of the great hall as the slan ignored the late winter chill seeping into their gathering. Soon. Any moment now it would come. Several bards of various ranks held their instruments at the ready.

Kenaz

The kenaz is a pendant worn by Travelers that both marks them as Taliesin’s select followers, and allows them to summon whatever instrument the bard desires.

Ealaidh gripped the kenaz nestled in the small of her neck. In the tense silence, her breath danced in frosted clouds. The cadence of her heartbeat a slip jig. She came up on her tip paws. The sky behind the hill lightened, turning lavender. Three more measures of the slip jig throbbed against her ribs and then … the bright crest broke from the shadows. The moon’s silver aura announced her rise into the heavens.

The silence shattered into a wild fray. Music rose into the air. Ealaidh summoned a fiddle from her kenaz and joined in the dance. Mulled wine from a kettle over the golden flames in the large hearth passed from paw to paw in communal cups. No matter how well a beast sang, every voice joined in the chorus.

Neath the moon we raise our voice

Neath the moon we sing til morning!

In the night we seek her grace

Restore all who call your glory!

Dance on two until the four

Dance as once we were created!

Gift of health, we are restored

As our magic is awakened!

In the sky the radiant full moon rose, a gleaming eye gazing down on Healer’s Moon celebration. A celebration that would last until the sun banished the night.

For over an hour, the wine flowed and the music rang. Ealaidh lowered her fiddle and drifted to the door. Her ears rode high, straining out into the night. She studied her paws. Late. It should have happened by now. The two onto the four. Why had none in the great hall shifted? This was the proper night, the night of the healer’s moon restoration.

She glanced over her shoulder into the throng. No one watched as she slipped out into the night and pressed her paw against the ode-stone. Closing her eyes, she felt the warmth of the current spread into her. She tugged thread after thread of her fellow Travelers, the last time they had sung to the stones left an essence of where they were. None were near Arainrhod’s Loch, except the one. Suthainn.

“He can’t do this alone.” Ealaidh swallowed and gazed to the east. Through the trees the moonlight shimmered on the loch’s surface. Turning back to the gathering in the great hall her heart squeezed in her chest. The warm light beckoned her. “No … ” she gazed back at the distant loch, “another Traveler is needed there. They have plenty of bards to make merry this night.”

She slipped away through the brush as fast as her footpaws could carry her over the hill. At last she broke into the clearing. Suthainn, a robust mangan, looked up from the edge of the pond and wrinkled his nose. “Ealaidh? What in the stars has brought you here?”

Ealaidh panted to catch her breath. “I came to help.”

“You?” The bear laughed. “Go back to chasing the bottom of mulled wine cups! Every Traveler knows that’s your place in the ceremony.”

“I heard the words of Briollag.” Ealaidh pointed at the hoarfrosted trees. “Spring cannot come without the Healer’s Moon power. I know this ritual requires a lot of power. You will need to draw off the current of another.”

The beads on Suthainn’s open vest rattled as he shot straighter. “Yes, one such as Briollag himself. Not a newly fledged Traveler. Now, go.”

“I’ve been emanated. I’m a full Traveler!”

“Within your first decade, Ealaidh.” He gripped the staff so tight his claws splintered it. “You’re not strong enough to take this.”

“I’ve survived my first one-hundred mortal years, and I lived to bear my kenaz.” She narrowed her eyes. “You don’t know how strong I am. Besides, you don’t have a choice. No one else is close enough.”

He grumbled to himself before eyeing her. “Listen, young blood. You’re but a whelp in my eyes. Besides, why would I trust one who vanished for a decade?”

Ealaidh stiffened.

Suthainn gestured with a massive paw. “I am no fool. I know why you came here tonight. You wanted to see if offering yourself for the Healer’s Moon would erase the scars you refuse to tell the circle about.”

Her paw brushed subconsciously at the hidden marks around her wrists. She swore she could feel the burn of the scarred flesh around her neck. Healed now, long since healed and buried in the growth of her fur. But still the other Travelers whispered, why? She lowered her eyes.

“The shift will never heal wounds inflicted by magic. Not even the Healer’s Moon can do that, Ealaidh.”

Tears stung her eyes. The leaden weight of her courage and false hope she had fostered threatened to crush her. Her shoulders fell. “I … I don’t care. That’s not why I came. I came … I came because it must be done. For the sake of all slankind.” She shivered. Coming here was such a small gesture, but it was a start.

“Ealaidh—”

“No!” She dashed past him, her footpaws bogging down in the loch’s bank. “Do it! You need a channel and the moon is nearly past her proper height. Start, Suthainn. If it kills me … ” The chill water lapping at her shins drove spikes into her. “If it kills me, so be it!”

His eyes revealed their whites. He hesitated a moment before leveling his staff over her head. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

Penance. She sank down into the water. Her teeth chattered a reel.

Suthainn widened his stance. “Arainrhod, goddess of the moon. Heal and Restore us this night.” He threw back his head and launched into a wordless song. A trail of golden light flowed around Ealaidh and joined the ribbons of magic flowing from Suthainn. They mingled together and rippled out into the still waters of Arainrhod’s Loch. The moon’s eye gleamed down on the them. Gold and silver lights streamed together and stretched into the night sky.

healersmoon

Suthainn and Ealaidh threw their heads back. Wreathed in the aura their forms grew and changed. Suthainn morphed into a larger, four pawed version of himself. His clothes vanished into his fur. Ealaidh discarded her fox form and shifted into an immense dire wolf crouched on all fours at the water’s edge. The aura encapsulated her. She glowed as the power channeled through her from the loch into the ancient Traveler. The current rushed through her flesh, threatening to erode her. She widened her stance and braced herself.

Primitive howls and roars broke out over the land. Every slan  had shifted through the power of the moon’s current.

The torrent of magic raced through both Travelers. All would be restored under the light of the moon … all but two. Suthainn grimaced on the bank’s edge, his head dipped lower beneath the strain. Still in the water, Ealaidh’s eyes were slivers as she forced her gaze up into the moonlight. She snarled in defiance. The ritual price had a price. She would pay it.

All of it.

Rearing back on her hindlegs, she laid her forepaws on Suthainn’s shoulders. The light around her strengthened, her haunches shuddered, but she remained. The bear gawked as his aura faded, Ealaidh’s stance shorting the draw into herself.

“No, Ealaidh! Stop!”

His cry did nothing more than to stiffen her resolve. She raised her own voice into the night. A lament that shook the bear’s heart to the core the moment before the ritual completed. Both slan toppled into the slush.

Still in their primal forms, Suthainn dragged himself up to hover over Ealaidh’s mud caked body. Her eyes cracked open and a slight smile pulled on her grimaced lips. “Well … ” she panted, “ … it’s a start … ”

He rested a paw against her chest, searching for the beat of her heart. “How … how did you withstand that? Briollag and I both struggle to share the load. You have only been emanated for seven years now.”

She shifted a paw and winced. “Eight. But … I don’t expect mine to be counted. So much … such a turbulent time … who was I to be remembered?”

He shook his head. “You shouldn’t be this strong, Ealaidh! By the gods, what have you done?”

Ealaidh shivered, ripples raced across the water. “Not me … Can you … can you get me out of here? Cold.”

Gently, Suthainn scruffed Ealaidh and dragged her limp body up the bank. He nudged her tail close to lock in warmth and laid his bulk beside her. “The sunrise will shift us back. Don’t waste your strength.”

“Wasn’t planning on it,” she mumbled.

Their breath mingled in the moonlight in icy clouds. Suthainn tracked the moon’s journey through a few constellations before he edged a paw against her cheek. “Ealaidh, you always were a strange one. From the day that the circle learned Taliesin had picked you we all wondered ahy. This endless road erodes the spirit. You were soft and full of joy. We saw a brilliant bard, but not a resilient Traveler. ”

She flicked an ice crusted ear. “I once heard a wise beast tell … being a Traveler gives one access to all the knowledge collected in the world. But it does not make one omniscient.”

Suthainn arched his head back and blinked. “I thought you weren’t listening!”

Her laugh was little more than a forced breath. “ … surprise … oh wise one … ” She curled tighter, frosted fur crackling. “Do me a favor … don’t tell anyone about this … all right? Let them believe … I was irresponsible … by golden hearth … drinking mulled wine … by the gods, mulled wine.” A whimper escaped her.

“Come on. That hearth sounds nice about now.” Suthainn forced his head under her and worked her bulk onto his shoulders. He lumbered through the snow toward the distant golden doorway. “Ealaidh, I’ve been the healer bard for ages now. Many ages longer than you have lived. I must tell you, time has taught me that some wounds can never be healed.”

She could have been a slain hart across his back for all her stillness and lack of warmth. For a moment he thought she was once more asleep. “That depends,” she sighed, “on what one seeks. Tonight I found what I sought … even against reason.”

His ear twitched, uncertain if he had heard the wind or if the exhausted Traveler mumbled …

there will never be forgiveness, only endless blood tithes.

 

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.

innercirclebards

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.

caittleillustration

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!”

Symbols that Build, Symbols that Break

journeysthrougha-brass-quill

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.