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Heimdallr

Heimdallr

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Heimdallr

Lunghezza:
579 pagine
9 ore
Pubblicato:
Nov 8, 2018
ISBN:
9781370465200
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

Combining legitimate legends with actual historical events, Best weaves an epic story that portrays the ancient world as it might have been, a world which the ancient historians recorded as fact; a time when gods ruled the earth and strange creatures dominated the land. It is the era of civilized conquerors exploring distant and primitive new lands. Scant recordings left to us today only touch on the fringe of the fantastic and brutal reality that existed in those distant lands of the west. Into this age, young Guiamo enters the world stage as the great game-changer, and by his hand the gods and beasts become destined to disappear into myth and legend.

Pubblicato:
Nov 8, 2018
ISBN:
9781370465200
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Marshall Best is an avid reader, father of six and business owner. In the past several years he has found his love of writing as well. What began as a desire to write a story for his children has evolved into a nine book series.Marshall has done extensive research into the history behind the legends, people and places of England, Scotland and Ireland involved in his books. He loves being able to weave real people and legends into his stories making them come alive. He is definitely a writer that tends to the details often mapping out timetables, calendars, genealogies, etc. that pertain to his book to ensure that it is as realistic as possible.Marshall also enjoys putting real life issues into his books, delving into a bit of philosophy while entertaining with orcs, dragons, magic and battles. He is someone who loves a grand adventure but makes sure it's not a shallow one.

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Heimdallr - Marshall Best

Heimdallr

The Chronicles of Guiamo Durmius Stolo

Book Six

By Marshall W. Best

Copyright 2018 Marshall W. Best

Smashwords Edition

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you're reading this book and didn't purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Heimdallr

Table of Contents

Chapter One 32 B.C.

Chapter Two 31 B.C.

Chapter Three 30 B.C.

Chapter Four 29 B.C.

Glossary

Chapter One 32 B.C.

"O Nessa, thou art in peril;

Let every one rise at thy birth-giving,

Beautiful is the color of thy hands,

O daughter of Eochaid Yellow-heel.

Be not sorrowful, O wife,

A head of hundreds and of hosts

Of the world will he be, thy son."

The Conception of Conchobar

Trans. Kuno Meyer

Bereft of silver and gold in his treasury, Fiacha found himself unable to pay the workers who had worked so diligently, if reluctantly, to tear down and haul away the stones in the wall surrounding Caer Usk. He found reasons to delay payment as they labored on for many miserably cold weeks. Disappointed and angry, the workers had little choice but to continue on with their labors into the deep of winter. Frustrated at the delays, several of their elders finally grew determined to collect the wages earned by all the laborers and forced a confrontation with Fiacha. The meeting was short and to the point. They were brusquely informed that payment would not be made until the taxes were gathered after the following harvest well into the next year. Only then did they realize that Fiacha was truly penniless.

Word passed quickly throughout the workforce. Irate at the theft of their labor, the workers set down their tools and made their ways home despite the cold weather, spreading word of Fiacha’s foolishness to every ear they encountered. Before four days had passed, Baile Fiacha was completely abandoned as it stood to decay into the ground.

For lack of food, funds, and purpose, Cermait and Fiacha departed for Caer Ebrauc a few days later just before the full fury of a sleeting, wind-driven winter storm set in. Thinking himself the strong leader for braving the brutal weather rather than seeking shelter until it passed, he stubbornly rejected his men’s repeated complaints, even whipping some who protested too loudly. Many of the horses perished and a fourth of the men fell sick, too weak to continue, but Fiacha forged ahead at the head of his miserable column, never once turning a glance backwards to check the condition of his faltering men, pitilessly leaving many behind to meet their fate.

Guiamo loved his time with his family and for that he lived, for while he found satisfaction in his work, his joy came from Buí, Nás and Ibic. Other interests and responsibilities still required his attention and he made time as he could to speak with Cathbad in the evenings. He was keenly interested in the progress his friend had made on the college throughout the worst of the wintry weather, but from time to time, their conversation turned beyond ideas for lessons to teach to things philosophical, or upon what mysteries Guiamo had discovered during his years of study in his sanctuary of Inis Emain Ablach hidden deep beneath the hill of Temair. Guiamo spoke freely of his time there and of the histories and lore recorded in the ancient voluminis, but never once did he allow even a hint to Cathbad where Inis Emain Ablach actually was located.

Likewise appreciating the importance of keeping its location a secret, Cathbad never inquired. He was extremely interested in learning about the gods and of the mistletoe called uile-leiges that allowed the gods to pass at will into the world of living men. His favorite times were those rare occasions when Guiamo revealed additional details about the mystery of the elder gods who transited between Gavatna and Aladlas by way of the Pathway of the Stars.

One evening as they relaxed together around the flickering flames of Cathbad’s firepit, he asked, What drives you? What motivated you to rise from your bed each day for those ten long years and strive single-mindedly as you did against the gods?

My sense of justice, Guiamo answered. The gods are tyrants and devious manipulators, and I would have mankind freed from their ruinous influence. By my count, I have overturned the deity of some two thousands, some worshipped in Inisfáil and Íath and others in regions well beyond Gallia and the farthest reaches of Rome. Some you would recognize, but I have found that many of their names have long been forgotten by the descendants of those who had honored them with deity.

When will it end? Cathbad asked. It is not that I doubt you or your mission, but is this, ultimately, to forever dictate your life’s path?

I believe I have brought to ruin the vast majority of the gods, Guiamo replied, "and most who remain are now hiding away from me. These are protected by the elder gods, those who achieved their deity as Saturnus taught them by way of the Pathway of the Stars. If I do not continue on, to overturn not only the gods of uile-leiges, but also the elder gods, they will return in time to dominate the lives of men as they once did. This I cannot allow. When all have been overturned, only then I can rest."

Cathbad asked, "Other than these two types, that of uile-leiges and the Pathway of the Stars, are all the gods the same?"

Guiamo answered, "They were all once men and women, but these find expression in our world in different ways. The first, called ‘who he is enduring,’ is usually chosen by those who have the strongest will, using their strength to take the same form they had when they were living. They long to extend their influence beyond that allotment permitted by Ieius. They manipulate the living as they pass through their great time of testing, all the while knowing Ieius forbids it. They do this for they think only of themselves, and what gain might be had in so doing.

"The second, called ‘where they forever abide,’ is of those who wish to cling to a single, particular experience they had in life; anything from savoring an especially joyful memory to clinging to some bitter hatred and all-consuming desire for vengeance. These exist in some part of nature, such as a grove of trees, a quiet brook, a well, or perhaps some stone carving that is linked somehow to that emotion-laden memory. Of the two, these are the most closely tied to Gavatna. They are water spirits, gods of the forest and the like. They are ever present and rest in a dream-like state. I think that as the centuries pass, they lose their emotional connection with Aladlas and their memories of that place fade away.

"There is another type which is exceedingly rare and disturbing called ‘who he can reside within.’ I would describe it as a seizing of the mind and body, be it man or animals or things of nature. There was even an account of this happening to one of the dead in Aladlas.

Once the victim is enslaved, that pitiable creature is tormented and abused. Some of these go about naked and cut themselves, howling miserably in their excruciating pain.

"Could these be the fer síde and ben síde who are known to haunt the countryside?"

"No, they are not these ghostly creatures you speak of. Now the síde are the dead whose ritual to become a god had been mislaid or conducted in a profane manner and so are caught now between Aladlas and Gavatna until the ending of days. Their keening wail can be heard in the dark of night as they lie trapped in their barrows. No, these are not the answer. Unlike the síde, these others who seize upon someone do not seem to be either male or female. Something else is at play."

Intrigued, Cathbad asked, "Now these others, these miserable victims who are seized mind and body; who seizes them?

Guiamo answered, "I once thought it was simply a different way a god chooses to manifest, but it is not. It is completely different. I am not even certain it is a god who is doing this. The perpetrators of this great evil use neither uile-leiges nor the Pathway of the Stars. How they do this I have not discovered, but I have read accounts of this occurring from time to time. I have never encountered it and I cannot explain it."

Cathbad offered, "I have heard a story of one instance just a few years ago in the far south of Íath. It was much talked about among the Druíde. They had no sure solution and the local villagers eventually took matters into their own hands, slaying the man who was so afflicted to put an end to it. But even as his lifeblood flowed away, the birds in the trees raised a great noise and flew around them in a mad frenzy, attacking them and driving them all away. Now the people fear to go back to that region and the Druíde have cursed it with their most powerful charms to bind whatever power rules there. It is a strange thing that nature could be afflicted in such a way. Could it be an angry god who did this?"

I do not think so, Guiamo replied. "As I have described to you before, the gods are created by men from among our own ranks. It is true that some gods have preferred to influence our world through creatures other than mankind, but never in this manner. There have been some who, like Domnu, commanded draics, and these beasts worshipped and obeyed them. Other creatures are also known to obey them, but it is always in the same obedient fashion as the draics. The birds you describe seem to have been reacting, not in obedience, but rather, from some form of insanity. I do not see how such random madness in men and animals could possibly serve the goals of the gods.

These who grasp ahold of some poor victim are surely not of this world, but neither are they gods, at least in the sense that we have come to understand them. I hope to solve this mystery someday, but I do not have enough knowledge at this time to find a satisfactory answer.

Let it go for now, Cathbad said. "While the mystery of these who seize control of mind and body eludes you, it is not nearly so important as defeating the gods of uile-leiges and the elder gods. You have solved the mystery of the uile-leiges, but the Pathway of the Stars remains a challenge. Let us combine our wits to solve its mystery. Sometimes even the cleverest man may inexplicably be stymied in his search for an answer where a novice may at once see clearly through to it.

So let us begin. Tell me, Mórlános, how many elder gods are there?

Guiamo answered, How many stars can you see in the night sky? There is one god for every star.

That many?

Guiamo nodded in affirmation. For every star we see in the night sky, there is an elder god. No more, no less.

How did you learn of the Pathway of the Stars?

"In my youth, I had a benefactor who took me in. Lucius Gabinius Malleolus was his name. What a wise and generous man he was; a master craftsman of the finest, most elegant body armor and weapons purchased by the nobility of Rome. I was only twelve years old when we first met, but I remember his lessons and those of his servant, Sertorius. Sertorius once told me the account of a certain man by the name of Uranus who was the great discoverer of the Pathway of the Stars, though he did not know the full tale. I learned the rest from an ancient volumen Domnu kept hidden away.

"Uranus was a man who lived in the most ancient of days. He had two sons, one good and the other evil. The wicked son, Saturnus, grew jealous of his younger brother, Ophion, and slew him. Uranus and his wife, Tellus, mourned him many days and could not be consoled. Now Uranus knew that the spirit of Ophion lived on in another realm set aside by Ieius as a place to house the dead, and in his grief, he sought various ways to visit with him.

"In time, he discovered the Pathway of the Stars. Despite the longing in his heart to speak once again with Ophion, he feared to pass through the pathway for he was not certain he could find his way home again. After many years, Uranus died and his heart’s desire was finally fulfilled when he joined again with Ophion in the realm of the dead, and great was their rejoicing.

"But while he lived, Uranus learned that the same stars which shine upon us shine also on Aladlas. He learned enough about the nature of Aladlas to know that it has no nighttime and so the stars remain hidden from sight. Since the souls of the dead dwelling there cannot see them, they could not discover the pathway back to Gavatna.

"Saturnus learned the discoveries Uranus had made and boldly, perhaps rashly, ventured headlong into Aladlas. While he was there, he learned how to torture dim the enduring daylight, and since he was able to then see the star he had chosen, he was able to utilize its pathway to return home. Saturnus taught this to all those of his kin he deemed worthy so they, like him, might be made into gods and rule over both Aladlas and Gavatna. And so they added many to their numbers until the last of the stars had been taken.

"When others thereafter sought to become gods, their pleas went unheeded for there remained no more unused pathways, and all these were denied the god-honors. Eventually, it was discovered that the uile-leiges was a most peculiar species of vegetation, dwelling at once in both realms, and by affixing it to their flesh, the godhood they craved could be granted to them at last. Hundreds were made into gods for the most trivial reasons until the elder gods, who sought to maintain their exclusive rule over Gavatna, could no longer tolerate it. They slaughtered everyone who knew the secret ritual and forbade anyone to honor the dead with the god-making rite, save for those they approved. Today, the Druíde oversee the ritual of the uile-leiges and, obedient to the law established by Saturnus, control who is permitted to become a god."

Cathbad grew more contemplative as he stared into the mesmerizing flames, "As I listen to your account, I realize that we Druíde err against the will of Ieius in granting the god honors to our dead. And yet, this ritual is the foundation stone of our sacred order. Indeed, I am even now creating my school specifically to teach them everything I know. I am conflicted."

With a sideways glance and a wry grin, Guiamo observed conspiratorially, You do not have to teach them the god-making rite.

Cathbad paused to consider the intriguing thought. If the Druí teachers in his new college never disclosed the secret high ritual, no more new gods could be created by his Cruthin students.

As you well know, Guiamo continued, "the Druíde never write their laws or record their rituals. If they do not teach it, in one generation the knowledge will be lost, and to my mind, that is a good thing. In time, I hope this knowledge will pass away altogether, and with it, the reign of the gods."

It is a start, Cathbad agreed. "Only a few of the Druíde in Íath know the ritual of the uile-leiges and these use it sparingly. Also, the colleges at Caer Ebrauc and Caer Londein teach it to only the most gifted, experienced elders, or, as was my case, those who have excelled at their studies far beyond their peers."

Grinning mischievously, Guiamo said, I just might have to do something about this.

Cathbad smiled back and contemplated what plan his friend might have in mind, but Guiamo offered nothing more. He realized Guiamo had no immediate strategy, but one would eventually develop, and then there would be no stopping him.

He was content to let this play out as it should, and turned to the task at hand. Tell me, how does the pathway actually work?

Guiamo reached out his hand and drew two circles in the dirt. He explained, Imagine that this one on the left is Gavatna and the other is Aladlas. He placed his left hand edgewise between them to form a wall and continued, "This wall is what we call the veil of Aladlas. It keeps the living apart from the dead. When I pass between realms, I open a door and simply step through. The gods of uile-leiges move through in a similar fashion. The uile-leiges exists in both Gavatna and Aladlas, and provides them a trail that allows them to move through at will without the need of the door I use."

Still keeping his left hand on the ground as a divider between the two realms, he picked up a stone in his right and, extending his arm, held it up high above his head. Now the Pathway of the Stars works in a different fashion. Let us imagine this rock is a star, or perhaps one of the wanderers. The light of the star creates the path. The spirit of the god standing in Gavatna moves upward along its path toward the star. Remember now that the light also shines upon Aladlas. When the god rises up over the barrier wall to the star, he is then free to travel back down along the star’s other path of light into Aladlas.

Cathbad finally understood and summarized, So the god rises up and goes over the barrier wall rather than through it as you do.

Yes. Now the trip between realms is faster than the blink of an eye. Guiamo set the rock back on the ground and added, We must remember that each pathway is available to only that one god. When the god, as a living man, first encountered the star’s pathway, something happened to permanently affix the pathway’s attention upon him. In so doing, it also denied itself to all others. Thereafter, no more men or women could become a god from that pathway.

Approaching the puzzle as an experienced teacher might explore a difficult topic with a novice, Cathbad said, Let us consider, then, this pathway. If you intend to stop the elder gods, then your answer will surely be found in understanding the Pathway of the Stars. Describe to me its nature. What is its form? Upon what elements or components is it constructed?

Guiamo ran a frustrated hand across his mouth and chin and said almost apologetically, I have never seen the pathway, though I have witnessed the gods using it. Nothing is to be seen.

I wonder how Uranus came to discover it? Cathbad asked.

Who can know? Much deep knowledge and insight has been lost in the millennia that followed his death.

Let us explore the pathway itself.

Guiamo shrugged, It is difficult to describe. It seems to be infinitely small.

Does it have any particular shape, such as a tube?

No, it is simply there.

Can it be blocked?

It is not as if I can put a pebble into it to plug it up.

Can the walls of the pathway be broken, or perhaps bent or redirected?

No, at least as far as I can tell. I believe it is every bit as unmovable or unalterable as the fabric that comprises the boundary wall of Ifurin, but it is also unseen and something that cannot be touched.

Would you not agree that if the star were to be destroyed, the pathway likewise would be ruined?

That is folly. How could I reach out my hand to destroy the star in the night sky, even so small a thing as it is?

Even so, would it not be destroyed?

I suppose so, though I do not see how this helps us.

Neither do I, but we have to explore all possibilities. Can the pathway be changed so that it no longer recognizes its god?

Again, it appears to be eternal and unchangeable.

But still, you must acknowledge that the pathway recognizes the god in some fashion. How do you think the Pathway of the Stars recognizes them?

The instinctual answer would be by their appearance. It is true that the spirits of the dead have form and substance. Certainly each occupies its space and comes and goes as it pleases them. But this, I think, is not our solution for a god may take any form he desires, and yet the pathway remains open to them and them alone.

I wonder, could it be that the pathway is taught to recognize the god?

I doubt it. That would take intelligence.

Cathbad grew intrigued at this new insight. Perhaps, but again, why not? There are many mysteries in this world and the next. Could the pathway be a living thing?

Guiamo’s eyes widened as his mind expanded, Perhaps not so much alive, I think, but rather, life-nurturing. Think on it. The light of the sun shines upon Aladlas and gives its inhabitants eternal life. When I make a god-weapon, I bathe the metal in the life-nurturing winds of Aladlas to awaken it. Lúin was made so, as were Belenus’ tools. They are not alive as you and I are, but they do have a living nature and obey my commands. I can even feel emotions emanating out from Lúin.

Emotions?

"Lúin loves to give battle and tremors eagerly in my hand as he awaits my command. I can feel his bloodlust, his confidence, his desire to slaughter my enemies in the same manner a fierce strains against his master’s leash.

Lúin has intelligence of a sort, certainly no less than what the pathway might possess. And he recognizes me.

How does Lúin recognize you?

I think he recognizes me from my voice.

Could it be that the pathway, in the same fashion, recognizes the voice of the god?

Yes, but then again, Lúin also seems to acknowledge my presence without my saying anything. I feel his contentedness even when I simply draw near to him. Something else is at play beyond hearing my voice.

Maybe we have been looking at this all wrong.

What do you mean?

Tell me, how do you feel when you go home at night and everyone is gone?

Empty inside.

And how would you feel at that same moment when they are home?

Filled up with satisfaction.

"You know they are home the moment you set foot inside even without hearing them chatting away or as they sit quietly spinning thread in another room. You just know. Subtle clues tell us when our wives are at home. They give a sense of presence that brings comfort, or unease if you have a wife who grates at you. But even then there is a familiarity that brings a feeling that all is well and as it should be.

I suspect our solution is something akin to this. It is something that cannot be touched or seen, but it is just as real. If we can discover it, I think you will be able to overcome this obstacle and defeat the elder gods at last.

Leaving Cathbad and his tearful family behind to begin his next great work, Guiamo led his family south out of Temair on the first day of Cutios with their path first taking them back past Almu and then moving southwest toward Caisel. As they neared their destination on the thirteenth day, the winds turned gusty, an unwelcome interruption to the gently warming rays the afternoon sun brought on that brisk spring day. Dark clouds of a rainfront spanning the horizon were low and blowing in fast. With dismay, everyone began to murmur unhappily as they noticed a torrential downpour just off to the northwest quickly approaching.

They had made good time these past days for the new road was in surprisingly good shape. They had found that Deisred’s road brought them to excellent fords at each of the numerous streams which flowed across their path. Guiamo noted with approval that Deisred’s workmen had labored meticulously to cut away every obstruction through the ancient forest and all the trees had been chopped off near ground level. It was only slightly rutted and travel was unusually easy for such a remote location. Despite their diligent efforts, Guiamo knew that his journey would become much more challenging when the rains turned the dry ground to mud, and the stumps, now flush with the ground, would seem to emerge from the softened mud to obstruct the wheels.

He pulled the wagon to the left side of the road and reined the horses in to a stop. Calling for everyone to work quickly, Guiamo directed his servants to pitch their three tents to protect them for the duration of the looming downpour, while everyone else snatched up whatever needed to be protected from the deluge to come.

The first few heavy drops soon began to strike the tentskins, sending everyone scurrying inside. The rainstorm hit with full fury moments later with a powerful gust of wind, but aside from the water that seeped in beneath the walls to pool beneath their feet, everyone remained comfortably warm inside and dry.

As they passed the time chatting quietly together, Guiamo suddenly cocked his head to the side. Despite the drumming rainsound upon the leather tents, he had detected a disturbing noise. He warned softly, Someone is out there.

Surprised at his comment and slightly skeptical, Buí asked, You can hear this over the rain?

He nodded in reply and said, They are out there.

The blowing wind and intense downpour cancelled out the threatening noise from ordinary human ears, but his heightened draic senses had told him that several voices were speaking in subdued tones at a distance. Taking Lúin in hand, he stepped out into the rain and headed into the foliage where he could observe from a place of concealment.

He scrutinized the surrounding forest, not so much by sight as by sound, and determined the intruders were still a distance away. Five at least, and it was clear to him they were taking advantage of the rain to stalk the unwary travelers who had pitched the three tents. But it was also evident from their curses and grumbling that they were unhappy, cold and miserable in the torrent.

They were at least a hundred passuum down the road, but slowly drawing nearer.

Well hidden in the scrub, he watched intently until they should appear through the rain. He realized they must have been lying in wait just ahead and had seen the small caravan stop to pitch their tents in the middle of the road. Feeling safely hidden by the driving rain, the leader had led his raiders from their place of concealment and walked openly down the road toward Guiamo’s party.

He could see them now, dark shadows moving through the rain. A quick count told him there were eighteen of them. Guiamo focused intensely once again on the sounds of their approach and tried to listen in on their comments. Try as he might, few words were discernable, but the tone of their voices revealed to him something unexpected which caused him to change his strategy.

He hefted Lúin above his shoulder, commanded, "Sotro podhern ut sintura net ha-eh breso!" and threw his cruisech at the leader of the brigand band.

The powerful cruisech flew straight toward the leader, stopping abruptly just in front of the gangly young man’s scruffy, sparsely bearded face.

The fifteen-year-old’s eyes bulged in fear as Lúin suddenly appeared from out of nowhere and hovered menacingly in midair before him. Surges of power tremored through Lúin in a manner reminiscent of a vicious, snapping dog straining against the rope around its neck. Most of the other boys froze in place, gawking dumbly at the astonishing sight, while a few others ran away in fright.

Acting swiftly, Guiamo summoning his draic-given powers of Aminúe, swept aside the veil to Aladlas with a wave of his hand, and passed into the land of the gods. He raced the hundred passuum between them and then reopened the veil to peer at the frightened child-brigands from an angle in which they could not observe him.

Their appearance confirmed his earlier suspicions. They were homeless boys, half-dressed in rags, malnourished, and armed with a motley collection of badly notched orc blades, rusty knives and poorly made spiked sticks; pitiful, but lethal still. Their leader wore a weathered helmet and carried a once-discarded orc shield, bent and battered from battles fought long before he was born. Their eyes were fixed upon Lúin who remained poised threateningly midair.

Before the young leader could recover his wits, Guiamo stepped through the veil to stand just to his left and a step behind. Guiamo cupped a hand to his mouth, leaned forward and spoke with a soft, but firm voice into his ear, You would do well to leave these travelers in peace.

Several of the boys saw him and cried out in alarm.

He stepped back through the opened veil, disappearing from sight in an eyeblink, only to emerge a moment later standing boldly before them. With a commanding voice, he said, "Athibar!"

Obedient to his command, Lúin returned at once through the rainstorm to his master’s outstretched hand.

With a whispered command of "Ignu-al!" Lúin blazed proudly with intensely bright light. Guiamo paused a moment for dramatic effect and to appraise what threat the band of young robbers posed.

Summoning his powers of Bersdhúnon, a power permitted him by the twin-looped serpent ring given to him by the god Mars, he Discerned the best for the falling rain if it would but descend a distance away. The heavily cascading raindrops obeyed happily and moved off, leaving Guiamo and the boys standing in clear air while a curtain of rain encircled them. Their clothing was sopping and they trembled, but not from the chill.

Clearly they were terrified.

With a voice of authority, Guiamo said, Hold, I say! Be still! I would have words with you.

Everyone froze in place and turned their full attention to him. They noticed the elaborate gold and silver torque around his neck and realized they were facing a god, or perhaps a powerful fer síde in the form of an exceptionally fierce warrior-prince, perhaps even old Ankou himself.

Frightened, the brigand leader asked nervously with his boyish voice, Who are you that the very rain obeys your commands? Are you a god?

Standing erect and with a voice of authority, Guiamo replied, "No. I am not a god. Rather, I am Día Mandraid Gníid," the God Unmaker.

Several boys shuddered at the ominous sounding title and took half a step backwards.

Are you going to kill us? one frightened boy asked.

Do you doubt that I could? Guiamo answered.

Terrified, the boy slowly shook his head.

Turning to the leader, Guiamo asked, What is your name?

I am Sommae, son of Cloch, but he is dead.

Seeing two boys nervously considering a dash into the forest, Guiamo spoke preemptively, If you rascals think you might escape me by scampering off into the wood, you should reconsider.

Pointing Lúin at them in a threatening manner, he warned sternly, "This, my cruisech friend, will search you out even in the darkest bolthole you can find, and he shall not then be so merciful."

Turning back to Sommae, he commanded, Now call back those who have already taken to their heels.

After looking around to see who was missing, Sommae shouted loudly, Fáitbuid, Talam, Gellad, come back here!

When they didn’t respond promptly, he called out once again, Come back or I will give you the back of my hand.

After a long pause, the three boys reluctantly stepped from out of hiding and cautiously drew near. It was clear that they were terrified of Guiamo.

Despite the fear the leader felt, he bolstered his courage and asked defiantly, What do you want with us? We have done you no harm.

Not yet, but clearly that was your intent.

What makes you think so? Are you able to peer into our thoughts?

"No, but I do know why people do what they do. There are many reasons eighteen young men, who have obviously been living in the wild, might claim to be wandering down this path in the middle of a downpour, armed for battle and without an adult to guide them; to go for a stroll to market, to find a lost pet, to gather some firewood. Or perhaps this; to go swimming in a pond nearby.

There are many explanations, but there is only one reasonable answer; to rob vulnerable passersby. No, I know what you are and why you are here. But do you know why we are having this lovely conversation, rather than me moving your bloody young corpses off the road and out of sight so that my wives and son do not have to see them?

Shocked speechless, the boys waited for his answer.

Scrutinizing each of them, Guiamo finally pointed at the shortest, asking, How old are you? Ten? If that?

From the way the boy shrugged, it was clear to Guiamo that he genuinely did not know.

Guiamo asked, "Are you all from the Mumu cóiced?"

Sommae hesitantly answered, Yes.

You should go back to your people.

We cannot. They would kill us.

Guiamo raised an eyebrow and asked, If you cannot return home, how long do you expect to survive out here preying upon travelers on the road?

The boys looked at Sommae for his answer, but he remained silent.

"Surely you must know that word of your banditry has reached the ears of Ard Rí Deisred himself! In time, you will be hunted down and slain. Surely you must know this."

Perhaps, Sommae replied, but for now we do what we can to survive. We are not doing so badly on our own. It was a dignity-saving boast, but Guiamo saw the truth in the dark, hollow eyes of the malnourished boys surrounding him.

One of the younger boys blurted out, If you would teach us how to disappear as you did just now, they would never find us!

Such tricks may serve you from time to time, Guiamo answered, "but in the end, they would still find you. Whether it would be on the road on one of your raids or as you sleep under a tree in the deep of the forest, you would still eventually be found and killed. And what would you have had in life to show for the pleasure of living here alone in the wilderness? Empty bellies and ever fewer companions.

There is another choice before you. I know of a place where you could go to learn things like what I have shown you and more, a good place where you would be fed decent meals, cared for when you are sick, and have a warm bed to sleep in. In time, you would be highly respected by all men and have hope for a homestead of your own, a good wife and as many children as she can give you to fill it.

The boys seemed to grow increasingly intrigued and chatted quietly among themselves.

Sommae was more cautious and accused, Such bounty surely comes with a wicked price.

Guiamo answered, A disciplined life full of purpose is not a bad price to pay. There are many things you will learn, not the least of these being responsibility and the value of honest labor.

Sommae was not impressed. With a skeptical tone, he asked, When all is completed and we have nestled in those lovely beds you describe, when time has passed and we have achieved all that is required, what then? What is your goal in this? What then is the outcome?

Guiamo replied, In the end, you will serve your people and not just yourself.

Ah! At last! The truth comes out! Sommae sneered. You speak of serving as if it is some wonderful gift. I have no desire to be a slave. I will not be a servant to anyone, nor will my friends. It is better to die out here in the wild than live in chains.

Not all service is enslavement, Guiamo observed. "Is a mother enslaved to her babe as she bathes it, or dampens its fevered brow when the child is sick?

"I have found that one of life’s most difficult lessons is learned when a child fully comes to realize that he is not the center of the world and that others will rightly impose their needs above his. It is a most humbling experience, one that most people never fully recover from. But once it is learned, they and the world are better for it. This is a lesson you, too, must learn and you shall, in time.

All of life is comprised of choices, each with cost, each with reward. When the cost is pried unjustly from someone else, forcing them to pay against their will, it is a grievous wrong. When the reward brings pleasure for a short time, but inflicts long term harm, it is foolishness. But when a long-lasting or significant good is gained to others in need with mere inconvenience to ourselves, it is a worthy and commendable act. There is great need among the Cruthin people that Cathbad intends to cure. He needs help from children like you.

He saw them bristle that he considered them children, and rebuked them in a kindly voice, "Do not protest at my calling you so, for children you are still.

"There will be no chains, no master. You can leave any time you desire. Go to Temair. There you will humbly present yourselves to Ard Rí na Cruthin Deisred and declare that you are the band of brigands who have plagued the road to Caisel.

"When he asks why you have come, you are to say, ‘We come to obey him who sent us to be taught by the Druí, Cathbad.’

When he asks, ‘Who is it that has sent you?’ You are to say, ‘Mórlános.’ With those words, you are under my protection. You will not be harmed or detained if you are unhappy in any way and choose instead to leave.

The older boys began to whisper excitedly among themselves for they recognized his name and remembered the holy day, Mórlánosnasadh that he had established, though some knew it as Lughnasadh. Their expressions of fear changed to awe and respect, for they had been taught of his valorous deeds as small children, and three of the boys knelt spontaneously in the mud out of respect, but also in shame for having intended him harm.

Seeing he was winning them over, Guiamo offered, "If this appeals to you, travel to Temair. Speak with Ard Rí Deisred. Confess openly to him that you are the band of brigands along this road and that you have changed your ways and are come to learn from the hand of Cathbad. He will be merciful to you and welcome you as a father might greet his errant, but repentant son.

My offer is most generous and will serve you well. Gather your belongings and head toward Almu, then turn north. You can be Temair in about ten days. What do you say?

Cautious as ever, Sommae answered with reservation, I will consider it, but the eager clamor of the other boys confirmed that their decision had already been made.

Now come with me, Guiamo said taking care to phrase his words in an inviting manner rather than as a demand. I will kindle a fire to dry your clothes, and we will get you something to eat. But leave your weapons here.

After they had dropped them into a pile, Guiamo led the boys down the muddy road toward the three tents. The boys chattered excitedly about their changed fortunes and watched in amazement as the downpour of rain continued to deflect away from them as they walked along.

As they drew near, Guiamo said, Wait here a moment while I speak with my family and those others who have traveled with me.

While the boys waited obediently, Guiamo pulled aside the tent flap and stepped inside. Nás and Buí were relieved to see him return and asked what had happened. He simply answered, All is well. There is nothing to worry about.

Not satisfied with his overly concise answer, and curious, Buí asked, What did you find?

Guiamo smiled and offered, "I think I have found Cathbad’s first Druí students. They are a little rough, but they should do nicely."

He then explained who he had found and summarized their conversation. She became fearful and questioned the wisdom in trying to rehabilitate such openly violent boys, and in trusting them to not suddenly turn on them. He then gently reminded her of an earlier, similar episode he had told them many years before, "Do you remember the story of my friend, Actus? I might have slain him, but I had mercy upon him instead. So it is with these brigands. There was no need to take their blood as coin to purchase our safe passage.

They are desperate young men; boys really. There is not a decent beard among them. The oldest of them must have been born only a few years after the Cruthin were freed from their Fomori orc masters for none of these have skin marred by brands or tattoos. Come, let us feed their empty stomachs at once, and in doing so, bring them into Cathbad’s fold.

Satisfied that her concerns had been seriously considered by the man she loved, she nodded in support of his actions and set to caring for the boys in a diligent and motherly manner.

At his instructions, the servants gathered all the food and began to pass out that which could be eaten at once, while Nás began setting up a kettle and tripod to cook a soup to complete the meal the boys so obviously needed.

As he watched the boys devour their food stocks, Guiamo was warmed by their smiles and happy banter. He nodded approvingly at Buí who paused from her labor to look at him for reassurance, and thought to himself, It has been a day of surprises, to be sure, but it is a good day.

The three wagons arrived without fanfare at the outskirts of Caisel the next afternoon. The farmers were in their fields planting crops and the women worked outside in the warm spring air. Nobody, at first, paid any particular notice to the visitors, but Vlatucia was remembered and the two noble horses drew a lot of attention onto Guiamo. The curious began to draw near and the children clamored about with many questions. Not wanting to be mobbed or delayed, Guiamo pushed his way through the gathering crowd and led his party directly to see Daire, rí cóiced of the Mumu cóiced.

To his disappointment, Daire was not available for he had gone hunting these past two days, but Tend, the slight and aloof young steward, vaguely recognized the name Mórlános and offered them the use of the lesser visitors’ quarters until the should return in the next few days. Pointing the way down a dingy alley to a dilapidated and neglected shack, he closed the door in Guiamo’s face and left them to clean the foul-smelling refuse left by the previous occupants and fend for themselves.

At his first opportunity, Guiamo slipped away to inspect his first armory to see what condition it was in. It had been many years since he had been to Caisel and he had always wondered when someone would become desperate enough to attempt to steal whatever valuables they just knew he stored there. He knew that the people feared to violate the widely held geis against offending him, the man who had delivered them from generations-long enslavement to the Fomori beasts.

He found the door securely in place, a pleasant discovery to be sure, and a cursory inspection of the exterior walls revealed no evidence of attack or tampering. Likewise, the clostellum seemed intact and unmolested. It appeared that his reputation had kept it inviolate.

He slid the decorative piece to the left, inserted the clavicula he wore as a ring on his finger and twisted. He felt the internal mechanism snap into place, withdrawing the bolt that held the door secure. The hinges protested against opening and creaked loudly as he pulled the door slowly open.

Once he had entered, he shut the door behind him. The room was utterly dark and the air smelled of mildew. He commanded, "Ignu-al!" and Lúin illuminated the room at once.

A quick inspection and a light coating of dust told him that nothing had been disturbed in all those years. It was not a smithy, just a secure storage building. There really was not much left behind aside from numerous wooden shelves that had once held four hundred god-weapons. There was a pile of draic skin scraps, a few teeth and claws, and the remains of Cichol’s wing sections. All seemed to be in good order and as he left it. He determined at once to clean the place thoroughly as soon as he had the spare time.

He looked around at his long-neglected armory. This place was perfect, he thought. If there was to be a secret that must never be revealed, Guiamo knew there should also be a second one that Cermait must be allowed to find. And it would be here.

He knew that, in the likely event that Cermait should seek him out, he would follow the clues and make his way to Caisel. No stone wall or lock crafted by Credne would keep him out of this room, and the wretched Druí would work quickly to break in. Knowing what to look for, Cermait would not rest until he had discovered a similar secret underground smithworks as he had at Caer Usk.

Guiamo’s task was self-evident. He would construct an elaborate diversion, a similar tunnel with a chamber at its end filled with seemingly priceless, but worthless treasures for Cermait to discover. The entryway to that dark chamber would be concealed with protective charms that Cermait could eventually overcome, but only with convincing difficulty.

His true smithy would need to be located elsewhere in a place Cermait would never think to look. It would have to be unprotected by any secretive means known to the Druíde lest he should locate it by searching for the very charms meant to conceal it.

But where? He would eventually figure this out, he knew, but in the meantime, he had his work cut out for him.

Over the next few days, he sought out a farmstead near Caisel that could be purchased, and on the sixth day, Guiamo exchanged four pieces of gold for a lovely plot of ground to the north.

The land bordered a broad stream just deep enough for trout to thrive in, and a small grove of ancient trees grew around the home to provide shade in the heat of summer. The house was most unremarkable, but the land was fertile and the seed had already been laid into the furrows. The former owner had no further need for the goats he raised, so offered them to Guiamo as well

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