Vessel and the Dying Light

Around the glades near the shire of Sruth Uaine not even the wind shifted the last leaf clinging to the ironwood branch. In the dwindling light I sat atop the ode-stone watching the perked ears of my fellow Slan as they wound silently through the deer paths. Every moment the sun journeyed closer to the horizon. Every moment hope died a little more.

I longed for that sensation beneath my paw pressed against the stone. Please, let some other Traveler sing to the stones. Let some Slan succeed, somewhere.

I spread out the toes of each footpaw. I was fleet. Perhaps if I joined in the pursuit? But no. Today, the shortest day of the year, did not belong to me nor any other of the bardic order. This day we were but witness to a ritual that belonged to the uninitiated youth. Who was I, a Traveler beyond her first life-span, to steal the honor from the fleet-pawed who had spent their seasons in practice sprints over hill and dale. My fingers caressed the stubborn stone. The magic thrummed against my pads, willing me to evoke the images of the past rituals. I nearly did before letting my ears fall. No, for I might miss the subtle song from another shire.

“Traveler?” A whisper stole my attention.

I leaned forward and stared down into the eyes of an adolescent stoat clutching a pouch on her belt. Stretched to her full height, she turned her gaze out to the filtering trees. I recalled her name from back in the shire, Dochas was a daughter of one of the druids not yet initiated into the order. She was not known for her grace. In fact her footpaws seemed to have minds of their own.

Her tail bristled and twitched as she went on. “Traveler, how … how do you know for sure today is the Solstice? I mean, could we … could we be wrong?”

“The sun speaks its truth. The path has stalled as only the eyes of those who measure know.” I smiled. “You fear that the search is for nothing.”

A tremble swept through her. “What if it was yesterday? What if we missed the opportunity? What if it is today and no one succeeds? Has that happened before?”

“Indeed, it has.” It took all my will-power not to summon the images of those pawful of harsh times. She already shook, no need to mire her fears. “Not in any age that I have born witness to, but in the distant past there have been winters where no beast of any shire has managed to locate the mighty Soitheach. And in some cases they found her in the dusk and failed to catch the wily beast.”

WinterSolsticeBoar

Her eyes searched with greater urgency.

“Without the touch of a paw and the connection to the legendary mother-boar, the harvest that followed was indeed meager. The forest ungenerous. Every shire in the land shed weight in the turn of the seasons. But don’t fret. Look to the sky. The sun’s rays still blush the horizon. So long as light remains, so too does hope.”

“Then … no one has found Soitheach?” She nearly climbed the stone pillar.

Silence reached out of the surface. No new song broke forth. I shook my head.

Dochas heaved a sigh. “How can no one find a boar that large?”

“The whole of our island is immense.” I shrugged. After all, ancient dragons filled the mountain caverns without a trace. Soitheach was indeed more massive than a normal boar, but she was no mountain.

Dochas’s ears drooped. A moment later they crept back up. A paw to rose to her lips.

I held my breath. Silence, for by now all of the young Slan had pressed away from us toward the distant stream.

Crack.

We both turned and gazed into the fiery rays piercing the wood from the distant hill. A mound moved through the bracken. A snorting shuffle carried through the forest. Dochas clung to the shadow of the stone, crouching low she slunk under a fallen truck of a tree and braced herself.

I narrowed my eyes against the blaze of the setting sun. The final fingers stretched into the sky. I sniffed, but no wind carried the scent. The stagnant air denied any hint as to the creature that came our way. Was it Soitheach’s hooves breaking a trail? Or some other immense beast?

Hold still, young one. Let this be your year. Soitheach, give this one the honor.

Yes, I am too old to believe in such a notion as to her hearing me. Or even my will calling forth a creature of legend. I know better than to assume they gave a damn about the lure of my insubstantial voice. A Traveler holds powerful magic, but the elements of nature hold to their own whims.

From the pouch on her belt, Dochas snatched out a mushroom the size of her splayed paw. Gently she blew on the cap toward the creature. Branches snapped and cracked. The ragged outline of the lumbering mound of flesh grew out of the forest. Tusks longer than a Slan’s arm arched toward the sky. Two beady eyes the color of a rippling stream glimmered beneath shaggy brows. A ridge of coarse frost-gray hair stretched along her back. In her wake the forest shivered, frost cracked the ground in her hoof prints.

Soitheach’s breath curled out of her mouth and rose into an icy fog. She turned her focus toward the tree. Dochas’s paw held the offering out like the wooden limb.

I cocked my head. What a clever little mite.

Step by frostbitten step, Soitheach wandered toward her with nostrils wide sucking in the scent. I clung to my perch. A faint finger of light speared the sky. If Dochas moved, the fleet hooves of the beast would carry her well out of range. All it would take was a flinch and the year would be of fallow fields.

Hold! Chasing now would be folly. Patience, young one!

A paw-width away. Every breath of the mighty boar stirred the fur on Dochas’s paw. Still as the steadfast oak she remained, not even blinking as Soitheach’s flanks twitched. Saliva dripped from her open mouth leaving behind a killing frost.

Soitheach lifted her head and engulfed the mushroom. A string of fluid connected paw and beast.

My heart thrummed. It wasn’t enough. Reach, slow… but reach!

Soitheach ground the fungus between her teeth, grunting with obvious pleasure. Her eyes hooded over.

Swift as lightning Dochas’s paw caressed down the muzzle.

Louder than thunder Soitheach squealed her displeasure. She reared her bulk up onto her hunches and nearly tumbled onto her bristly backside. That fate Dochas did not escape. She toppled tail over muzzle behind the tree. She narrowly missed being crushed by the hooves of the bucking boar.

The forest shattered as Soitheach plowed up the hillside leaving a breathless young stoat in her wake bathed in the final blush of the evening sun. Alarmed voices called from all around, ears bobbed in the distance. Dochas lay there gasping for breath, rooted to the spot as she stared where the legend has once stood in four frosted hoof prints.

My heart raced, the song this year … was mine to sing! I bore witness. From my neck I grasped my kenaz and willed the pendant into a fiddle. Already the prose formed in my mind.

Dochas of the shire of Sruth Uaine, you shall be ever-remembered. You, and you alone by your cleverness, have blessed the new year. Tomorrow, when the day grows longer, we may rejoice and sing your name.


A blessed holidays to you and yours, with a happy new year!

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Shadow of Doubt

Shadow of Doubt

samhainsidhewyvern

I reached out and caught the leaf drifting down from the branches. A true masterpiece on a once living canvas. Red tips blazed at the end of the brilliant yellow center. The shrill cry of a sidh-wyvern caught my ear. I glanced up into the shivering autumn leaves and spied her unusual markings.

“What are you looking at, Ealaidh?” Seirm, my bard-in-training charge, flicked his stoat ears in the direction I was gazing.

I ruffled his headfur. “Tis the turning of summer to autumn. Surely you know about the lords of the seasons.”

He chuckled and flared out his short tail. “Of course I know the myth.”

“Myth?” Raising an eyebrow I cocked my head. “Surely you mean myths?”

He stared at me blankly.

“By the multitude of gods, what lazy tailed bard taught you? Oh never mind, it doesn’t matter. Sit. Learn as you should have been taught.” We settled on a fallen log dappled with lichen. The earthy scent filled my nostrils, that damp odor of deceased plants returning to the dirt that gave rise to it. Cycles.

“Seirm, my young bard—”

“I’m seventy-three.”

“My young bard.” I eyed him back into silence. “The seasons did not always turn. Ages ago, not long after the first tribes began the tell of time through Taliesin’s gift of music, Cernunnos turned to Io’s children. The earth had grown weary of supporting constant abundance. So in his great wisdom Cernunnos selected four special sidh-wyverns and gifted them with the power over the weather.”

“Yes. Everyone has heard the legends. But how can something so tiny effect the whole climate? They’re the size of hawks, that’s ridiculous.”

“You are not alone in thinking so. When first they were gifted, one of them suffered greatly under the burden of her task, even into the second year.”

The summer sun cast Muthadh’s shadow long as she stretched her scalloped wings over the hillside amongst the ghosts of shivering leaves. The hawk-sized sidh-wyvern let her translucent back frill tuck in tight as she wrapped her tail around her. Purple and orange scales hardly hid her among the ash tree’s bright green. She closed her eyes and shuddered.

“We are dragon-kin.” She swallowed, hugging the swaying branch with her clawed wings. “What a shameful jest. What am I compared to my larger cousins? A wisp to be blown on the wind?”

A distant cry shattered the air, Muthadh held her breath and spread out her wings prepared to bolt. But for what? She knew that boastful shriek, as did any who roamed the wood in the grip of summer. Luisreadh, the sidh-wyvern whose magic reigned over the season of prosperity. It was his breath that opened the flowers faces to the sun. The current of his wings that spread their pollen through the glades. His cry that summoned the heat of the blazing sun down on the earth.

Muthadh had woken. Luisreadh’s season … was supposed to be ending. Her claws gripped the branch as her eyes locked on her silhouette spilling on the ground. Thin, wiry, substanceless. She whimpered at her shadow of doubt. Green leaves buffeted her. Leaves that were her task to paint as vibrantly as Luisreadh painted the flowers. A warm breeze blew through the wood. Winds that were her task to whip into gales and strip the growth away. The sun winked through the canopy. The same sun it was her task to pull lower into the sky to let land to rest, if she could but summon the courage.

Memories of last year’s attempt paralyzed her. Last year … in what was to be the first turn of the seasons. She bowed her head and whimpered at her failure.

Autumn’s first day was today … and its bringer clung to the branch like a stubborn leaf. When she had opened her eyes on this day and seen the beauty Luisreadh had spread throughout the land, a lump grew in her throat. How could she wilt his beloved blooms? How could she rot this vibrant land? How could she possibly outshine the splendor of the sidh-wyvern of summer?

She spied him winging into the trees, Luisreadh swept through the branches screeching out his pride at his own work. His bright green scales splotched with all the colors of the blooms. Bright rows of spikes lined his back as he undulated through his domain. The spark in his eye lanced Muthadh’s heart. He wasn’t ready to relinquish. For the second time, autumn could not possibly come.

Her shadow shivered up from below, cast over Luisreadh’s masterworks. The shadow mocked her, she swore she saw it narrowing its eyes and laughing up at her. Coward! It whispered. Uninspired fool. Yours is the season of death. Who would ever embrace you? It’s no wonder that no one even missed your failed contribution last year. Crawl into a tree hollow and cry like again! It’s all that is left to you.

She tucked her head beneath a wing and stifled a sob. The gleam of bright blue sparked before her. She opened her eyes to gaze upon on will-o-wisp floating in the folds of her wing. The morpheous sprite floated down to the tree limb, brushing against the bark. “Listen …”

Muthadh bent down and pressed her ear close to the limb.

“Listen …” The wisp evaporated.

weary … rest … The limbs spoke to her in creaks and groans.

She snapped up her head. “You … you would suffer if I did not take over for Luisreadh?”

weary …

“But, you don’t understand. I would be killing you.”

sleep, not death … through winter … spring reawakens … without rest—as if to show her a leaf crisped on the twig and fell to the ground.

“Have you told Luisreadh?”

yes … he bids us to sprout eternal … we are not the evergreen …

Her frill crept up to full, flowing in the breeze between her spines. She watched the reigner of summer soaring on his breeze, oblivious to the cries echoing in the wood. He remained ignorant to the needs of the land. A snarl parted her scaly muzzle. Turning to the shadow of her doubt on the ground she glared hard at it. “Your pointless weight will not ground me. I am the reigner of autumn! This season does not come without my bidding. It is time.” She stroked the tree limb with her wing. “The land needs sleep.”

Throwing her head back, Muthadh released her harsh rasp. Her wings spread and slammed down against the warm current. A cold, crisp bite followed and enveloped her in a spinning frenzy. The skies overhead darkened, leaden with heavy rain clouds as a thunderclap echoed through the valley.

“Luisreadh! Summer has come to a close, the harbinger of autumn has awakened. Bow down and surrender.” She hovered above the tree grove, rain pelting her scales.

A brightly mottled arrow of sidh-wyvern flesh shot up from the canopy. Luisreadh led with his talons and a piercing scream. “I am not finished! I will never fall to you!”

“Spirited words.” She snapped her wing and rose out of his way. Enthusiastic as always, Luisreadh overshot and struggled to pull around and face her. “You know this is how it must be. The land calls to you, but you ignore it. Heed its cries, let it rest.”

Hotheaded Luisreadh bared his fangs. “You challenge me for the mantle? I would have thought last year when I beat you into submission you would have learned. You are not worthy!”

She cringed, the scar on her wing still tugged. But the pain had another effect. She wouldn’t let him win again. Autumn must come, even if he refused to heed the cry of the land. Rising toward him in the growing gale littered with shredding leaves she beat her wings, arching her talons. The chill in the air faded his colors. Each beat of his wings lost power as she stole the mantle from him.

His face lined with shock a moment before she collided with him, entangling him with her talons. He struggled, only to blink up at her. Muthadh carried him lower into the canopy, heading toward his favorite oak tree. “What … what are you doing?” His voice was barely a whisper in her gale.

“Laying you to rest for the turn of the seasons.” She gently nestled him into the crook of the tree, nudging his tail in.

The defeated summer sidh-wyvern’s eyes already were closing where he would sleep three seasons through. “But … why … I beat you into the hillside last year … left you broken.”

She breathed onto the oak leaves and they turned a brilliant array of reds and golds. “I already beat one opponent today. What need have I to prove to another?” A ray of sunlight broke through the clouds casting Muthadh’s shadow against the oak tree. Luisreadh’s eyes blinked back open as the shadow cringed.

Muthadh spread her wings and shot into the heavens, riding the rising gale with each pulse. Beneath her the world turned from one brilliant palette of colors to another of true beauty. The beautiful palette of change as autumn fell upon the land for the first time.

Out of the canopy Muthadh soared, wreathed in will-o-wisps.

Seirm jolted as the sidh-wyvern shot in a tight spiral over our heads and up into the leaden skies.

Placing a paw on his shoulder, I chuckled. “First time you’ve seen a myth, lad? Been around the bard camp too long. Welcome to the real world where there are creatures who truly command their surroundings. Take care to mind them. Especially the harbinger that prepares the earth for the winter sleep … she bares death on her wings.”

Passing the Mantle

journeysthrougha-brass-quill

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.

The Legend of the First Frost

journeysthrougha-brass-quill

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.

gorachlute

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.