A Tale of the
This is a game posting done in a modified PBEM ("Play By Email") format.
Méabh-Speaks-The-Future’s strong fingers gather the tattered wrap over her bronzed shoulders, covering a greying auburn braid, as a bitter, biting zephyr blind-sided the cliff top upon which she stood, overlooking the lush but now dormant Mealagh Valley, County Cork, home to The Battle of Kinsale, Michael Collins and the like. Tufts and rivers of kelly fescue trod underfoot by playful feet just hours ago, slowly rising to bathe in the setting sun’s grace, which comes ever earlier as Winter looms soon ahead.
Méabh presides over the rustling heather-dotted outcropping crowning Lough Bofinne, arms lightly crossed, watching with keen eyes as an athletic figure, shadowed by trees, traverses the dusty path to the overlook. She turns her creased gaze to face him as he approaches, wisps of crimson and silver straying across intense, azure eyes that scan, assess and greet the younger, tall and lean freckle-faced man warmly within mere seconds. A son, perhaps, from the look of them together, or at the least, the telltale ease and rapport of family in their manner.
"’Tis as I said would come t’pass, Rory. He has returned… They’ll likely send for the wee one soon, you know," she says to him in her tawny-port husky lilt, as he embraces her in greeting, smelling of the woods and the musk of an honest mile’s walk.
"You were right," he hangs his head ruefully. "So what do we do when it happens?"
"Exactly as I instructed, no matter what," she chides gently, then turns her face to the breathtaking sunset with a visionary, contemplative expression, her kinsman at her shoulder.
There’s been absolutely devastating floods in Dublin this week. It was overcast at best, running about 9-10° C, by and large, and dropping rapidly as November drew to a close. A passel of young boys clown within their own, as they move in tandem across the cobblestone streets of Dublin proper. Ducking the Garda Síochána just shy of the elegant, white wrought iron Ha’Penny Bridge, for no other reason than to feel a touch naughtier than they really were, slipping into a dank, narrow alleyway feeding Temple Bar, along the River Liffey.
Last to slip down the alley to feigned safety was a tiny blur of a lad, not even in school yet, near half the age of most of his cousins and mates. Tousled dark hair and a dimpled smile from his Dadaí, the piercing crystalline blue eyes and fair, freckled skin from his Máthair. Hard to say where the precocious mouth, penchant for mischief and leadership bent came from… that one was a tossup.
The others watch over him protectively, but never quite know what to make of the lad and his wild stories. His Da used to spin a yard in his own day, and it seems to have carried on far too early in him. His Mum used to live in a castle in Derry, but now she was an angel, and talked to him in his dreams until Uncle Rory made the angel go away for some reason he won’t speak of. And now his Da was an angel too, though the bigger lads called it "being with Gaia". By any other name, though, the tales were as tall as the lad was small. They hoped perhaps he’d just outgrow it.
At the end of the alleyway, the playful, truant herd was cut short by a sky blue Peugeot 206 Sport Wagon stopped at the mouth, the redheaded driver opening the door and standing there, arms crossed, an expectant look in his merry blue eyes. "All right, the lot of you, in you go this minute," he orders, his voice kind but authoritative. They obey without question, climbing inside and closing the doors. The vehicle pulls from the curb, snaking up through myriad quays to the bypass. About 10 km south of town, he exits for Dún Laoghaire Rathdown, a 1500 year old Victorian harbour town, the boys growing quieter as the short trip soon ends at a simple house by the shore. A woman with short jet hair comes out, shooing them inside to wash, as she eyes the man parking with a heavy-hearted gaze, the knowing look adults get when much is afoot to which their charges are oblivious. "You have a phone message, when you’ve time," she informs him somberly, unspoken query in her dark eyes as she yet turns, going inside, not waiting for a response.
To Be Continued…
Ráichéal tucked her dark shaggy hair behind her ears, plunging a working woman’s hands into the hot, fragrant, soapy sinkwater. The thunder of a dozen boyish feet tearing up the Dún Laoghaire cottage shook the kitchen ceiling from time to time, rattled the pictures on the walls, and assailed her ears with shrieks of playful laughter and mock boasts vying for power amongst the pack, especially from the youngest, Rory's namesake, as wee lads are wont to do. She shook her head, watching Rory on the telephone after supper for what seemed like ages, though her fingers never had time to prune before he hung up with a resigned expression on his freckled, leathery face.
"We’ll tell him tomorrow, though I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t already know something’s afoot. Too much like his Da, that one," he announced to her, sandwiched between stomps and shouts.
"I know that look. Mind what Méabh said, or I’ll not hear the end of it, and neither will you," she replied.
"Dún do bheal, Ráichéal," he chastised her, but with a disarming grin she couldn’t be mad at, God, Mary and Gaia help her.
"I’ll not be quiet, either. Now off with you, there’s things to be done," Ráichéal shooed the elder Rory out with a tea towel swat on the arse, and went back to her kitchen business, her jovial smile soon settling into a brooding stare out the window at the dove grey billowy skies capping the harbour. He feigned a wounded yelp, then turns and goes down the hallway after the group of boys, his stride purposeful.
Meanwhile, in a rustic house overlooking the town near Lough Bofinne, Méabh-Speaks-The-Future rocks easily in a creaky wooden chair, curled up by a roaring late autumn hearth like a cozy cat. The crackling, fragrant fire, the turning, nearly bare trees outside, both echoing the burnished blush glinting between silvery strands of hair on her nodding head. On a rough-hewn table by the sink, spread out, were various accouterments Méabh procured for the task at hand. Who needs that overcrowded tin can Aer Lingus, when you have a Moon Bridge at your disposal? She stretched languidly in the rocker, then pushed herself to rise up, cracked her weathered knuckles, and set to work.
Méabh gathers up a small branch, several bags of herbs, charcoals, and a bucket of water, and slips out the back door towards the forest behind the cottage, treading the dew-kissed grass at the first sign of dawn. She whisks down a faint, almost indeterminate pathway into the coppice, disappearing from sight of the house with her strange assortment of items. She continues deeper into the heart of the forest, as the undergrowth of the copse becomes suddenly more lush and healthy than even the usual magnificent flora replete throughout Éireann. Just when the thicket becomes too heavy to pass, the path widens into a hidden grove, trees giving way to a glimmer of sunlight down into a circle of immense, inveterate, rugged stones, dragged decades ago to form a crude ceremonial-style circle within the opening of trees. She sets down the bucket of water and the branch, then the herbs and the charcoal briquettes next to them by the stone nearest the path.
Méabh traverses to the center of the clearing, next to a sooty pit in which seemingly lies the remains of myriad campfires. She turns her back to the center of the circle, facing the forest, and lets out an inhuman, majestic, compelling howl that wafts into the air, carrying, echoing through the woods, calling someone, something to come to her. A minute passes, and then another… soon, a subtle rustling disturbs the undergrowth, telegraphing scant movement in the shade as the cold winter’s sun begins to rise overhead.
Méabh turns and walks to the pile of items left on the ground, plucks up the charcoals and herbs, and brings them to the center, setting a handful of the briquettes upon a smooth, flat stone laying in the pile of dove-grey ash below. She pulls a worn box of kitchen matches from her pocket, strikes one, and sets the charcoal alight, blowing softly to kindle them to life, the heat radiating up into her wizened face, lightly moving wisps of hair over her eyes. She opens one of the small cloth bags, dumping the contents onto the orange-glowing coals, a puff of fragrant smoke billowing up as they catch, trailing skyward, heralding an important event about to begin.
To Be Continued…
In the sleepy harbor town just outside Dublin, as the sun cuddled the household to waking, Ráichéal shrugged on a fleece jacket, ran slim fingers through her onyx hair, then walked outside the Dún Laoghaire cottage to the Sport Wagon crouched next to it like a blue watchdog. She gave a peripheral glance to the foggy winter morning murk of the Irish Sea, as she approached the vehicle. She tugged out the keys and unlocked it, then slid into the driver’s seat and started the SUV up, so that it had time to warm before they left.
Once the engine came to life, Ráichéal rested her forehead on the steering wheel a moment, breath clouding the windshield, eyes closing in trepidation. She was overcome by a bittersweet longing, even for the cub of another, conflicting with caution of the untrusted, and the hypocrisy that her reticence was against his own Máthair… angel, demon, victim, whatever she really was, wasn’t lost on Ráichéal; merely serving to twist the knife a wee bit more knowing Méabh in her wisdom said it must be this way. Ráichéal prayed that perhaps his Mum still bore enough of a bond with her son to overcome what many fretted would come of all this. After savoring a snip of dread, she pulled herself out of her moping and went back inside to grab the duffel bag, its owner, and her mate.
‘Twas nearing lunchtime now in Mealagh Valley, County Cork, Éireann. Deep in the Lough Bofinne woods’ heart, Méabh-Speaks-The-Future casts her shining, verdant eyes around the sunlit clearing’s stone circle, surrounded by billowing, aromatic smoke from the intense pile of coals behind her, heat waves distorting the faces of the present assemblage of her wolf pack. She unassumingly flips her greying auburn braid behind her, sweat beading her weathered brow as her wise gaze lands on each in turn, in evaluation and greeting, after which she turns and walks a few feet away, kneeling to retrieve the stick and bucket of water.
She dips a strong hand into the brisk water, sprinkling it liberally over the leaves of the branch, then rises once more and stands almost at attention at the opening to the circle facing counterclockwise. She holds the branch to the inside of the circle in her left hand, and begins to slowly pace widdershins around the Caern, a spiritual, primal electricity building in the air around them all.
Méabh continues around the circle, passing each packmate in turn, until she pauses, nearly full back around, in front of a tall red-headed man, eyes traveling downward to the small charge at his side, the boy peeking out in wide-eyed wonder at all the goings-on. The dozen or so men and women gathered around and let out a collective howl in unison as wee Rory stretches out a smaller, cherubic hand to Méabh’s, compelled to leave his namesake’s side and go to her. The heady, earthy smells of sage, pine and cedar smoke tickle the air, as she takes the boy’s hand and continues her walk with him at her side, completing the circle and returning to its center.
An ephemeral shimmering teased the pack as the Moonbridge slowly began to form nearby the fire, anticipation pregnant in the hearts of those watching. In the swirling smoke and mists of the clearing, a fleeting glimpse of what appears to be a magnificent stag haunts just outside seeing and knowing, ever vigilant to the ritual at hand.
Méabh gestures with the damp branch, to either side of her, and to the boy. They turn to face the pack, and one by one each of those in the circle come forward as if paying respects, kneeling to wee Rory and bidding him safe journey. Never farewell or any manner of goodbye, for they felt not only that he was a part of his Dadaí’s people now, but that his heritage would call him to their side again before he walked the Earth no more.
Méabh leaned over, her contralto lilt soft at Rory’s ear as she took his hand once more, turning them both to face the mystical opening through which they would soon surrender themselves to travel by. "All right then, Ruaidhrí Pádhraig O'Broenain Fìonn Catalano, are you ready to go home?"
"Aye, Máthair Méabh," he whispers to her, fingers tugging in eagerness to see this new and wondrous thing, and elation at some unknown event about to unfold around him. They walk forward into the vortex created before them, becoming one with the spirit world and vanishing from view in a sea of howls sending them on their way to the land where stream of consciousness is the norm and many fantastic things are possible… and some dangerous ones.
The other end of the Moonbridge emerges in a remarkably similar setting, save that the gentle, curvaceous emerald hills of Éireann are countered by the sharp, tree-covered rocky mountains of Bolivar, West Virginia. A rural town of barely 1000 people, outside Harper’s Ferry in Jefferson County, overlooking the Potomac River, a stone’s throw from Brunswick, Maryland and Lovettsville, Virginia, where the three states shake hands over the river.
As Méabh and Rory materialize within the Caern that was their target, a host of unfamiliar but friendly faces surround them in welcome. The boy glances from side to side, excited but a bit shy for a few moments, despite his normally gregarious and playfully gruff demeanor. He tugs softly on the old woman’s wrap-end, and murmurs, "Máthair Méabh… if Uncle Rory isn’t here, does that mean the angel can come back now?"
The faint flinch of Méabh’s eyes is the only answer to his question she dares give. She pats the mass of jet curls on his head, and leads him towards a burly mountain man sporting a reddish blond beard, and a deep, jagged scar down one cheek that crinkles when he smiles. She offers her tanned, leathery hand to the man, who grasps it firmly, but with a touch more restraint than he might afford another male.
He speaks to her with the respect of an equal. "Welcome to our Sept, Méabh-Speaks-The-Future. I am John Rexrode, or Johann-Walks-On-The-Rapids. You honor us with your presence, short-lived though it will be for this day." He stops, and glances down at Rory, his mass belying a touch of the Germanic ancestry common in the Northern chunk of Virginia not even 20 miles east of here. "And as for you, Ruaidhrí, son of EdgeRider who through Phoenix’s grace once again spits at Death, we welcome you and will guide you safely home." He kneels down to meet Rory at eye-level.
Rory looks John square in the eye, but his defiance is not that so typical of boys of his tender years. It is an instinctual confidence betraying his age with a wisdom far beyond his conscious ken, at least for now. He sticks out a slightly dirtied hand at John and waits, offering naught but that disarming, dimpled grin that so often saves his hide from a worse fate he most likely has earned from time to time. John starts to bellow in laughter, shakes it, and scoops the boy up onto his shoulder for all to see him.
Méabh pecks Rory softly on the cheek, and softly says "Fad saol agat, tá Gaia ag féachaint ort, Ruaidhrí," (Long life to you, and Gaia watches over you) then retreats to the side to sit, exhausted with the ritual and resting herself before performing the return. or Johann-Walks-On-The-Rapids whisks the boy off, accompanied by a couple of the women, into the woods to a path down the mountain and into a small hollow, to the waiting cabin below.
[To Be Continued...]
Bolivar, West Virginia: