by Hector of the Black Height
At the great Ealdormeran War Practice of Anno Societatis XXXIII, prior to the Great Pennsic War, Her Excellency Adrielle, the Baroness of Septentria, was pleased to stoke her night fires bright, to see who might join her in fellowship and merriment.
Many were the nobles who came to her fire. Lady Marian of Heatherdale sang so many songs the moon did seek clouds to hide behind in the presence of such beauty, and Lord Finn mhic Rorridh told splendid tales. Lord Brand Thorwaldsson did join in the singing, as did Viscountesses Moria and Elina, and there was great joy.
And in all this company there was I, who had begged a boon of Her Excellency, and she did indulge me and did command her cup-bearer, the great Saxon Lord Cynred Broccan, to attend the fire and hear an odd story about a stick and a thong. And he did attend, bearing the legendary Cup of Teacht Ceartha Mhor, which is Her Excellency's greatest honour and one he deserves most richly. Later he did dance a mad dance, but that was after other deeds.
For I did tell a tale, and on my honour as Peer and my pride as a Septentrian, every word is true.
For I recalled the last day's service of Aedan and Kaffa, who served Septentria as Baron and Baroness for ten years. That was a singular day, for that also was the day Master Sylard chose to dissolve his House, Eagleshaven, and I was the least of Sylard's men, and in that knowledge I counted myself in his indenture. This was fair; he did bring me to Septentria and his Master of Steel, Strigor, taught me the ways of the sword. In honour therefore I determined to buy my freedom. I had served him nigh six years, so I gave Sylard six gifts of six as my freedom-price.
Six gleaming plates
Six ells of cloth
Six cups(a fifth gift of six I forget; it has been many years)
and six hand-spans of steel, in the form of a sax I made with my own hands. It was not a pretty piece, nor was it well tempered, but it was a gift and, on the day I found my freedom, he did accept it, and what was done was done.
Many years passed, and a few knives passed through my hands. And then at Pennsic XXVI I helped a young fighter and haggled for armour for him, with some success. In exchange I found, tied to the flap of my tent, a round-pommeled dirk which had pleased me and which I had hoped to haggle for later. I enquired quietly and was advised that the Dirk Fairy was content, and I accepted the mysterious gift with quiet thanks.
That war we did bid Baron Ieuen farewell at the shore of the lake, and Baroness Adrielle moved her court to the shore that we might do the departed Baron honour. A ring was cast into the lake (a fit deed, for Ieuen did love to give rings) and Halfdann mhic Crimmond the Piper of the North did play, and many beat steel on steel in time, and we did shout his name to the hills as farewell and thanks. And that day the dirk, the Unbidden Gift, first beat on my old sword, and it rang proud and true, and many tears were shed as we bade Ieuen goodbye.
Some months later Old King Palymar was minded to remember Ieuen, and one Einar, called Cruikshank, was made a Baron of Palymar's court for truly he had given great service to Septentria and its people. And I was there, and when Einar took up his coronet I did draw sword and dirk and beat them together, for Einar was like Ieuen a great warrior and steel on steel is high praise for a warrior. And the hilt of the dirk snapped in two, and the tang of the blade beneath it. The Unbidden Gift first rang for Ieuen and last rang for Einar, and that was all.
Some months before, I had seen Lord Cynred bearing my old sax, which he had acquired from Sylard some time back. I inquired after its worth, for it is an ugly old piece of iron but it was my work. Cynred agreed to strike a bargain with me some time in the future, and we spoke no more of it. I did not forget the old sax, for I lost my dirk.
And Cynred took up his spear at Ealdomere's first Crown Tourney and entered the list to advance the honour of my belt-daughter Gaerwen, and I was told that someone laughed at a spearman in the lists. And that someone did not laugh long, for he advanced six rounds fighting spear, a feat none can recall in all the annals of arms and the North. And Cynred did do Gaerwen honour beyond telling.
And after the tourney I did give my belt-daughter a ring to mark the day, and I gave Cynred nothing, for nothing can ever blot that glorious day from his memory. And I did give him a new name, for he earned such, and I called him Cynred Sure-Spear.
And later that day he gave me an old sax, and bade me do a favour for his friend Gaerwen in exchange, and this I shall do. But debts lie heavy on my soul, and steel debts heavier than most.
So at Adrielle's fire I gave him a stick and a thong, and then I drew forth the Unbidden Gift, all the pieces of it, for Cynred was Ieuen's man and sad Saxon steel rang by the lake too. And I gave him the blade as a spearhead, worthy of Sure-Spear. And I gave him the brass disc from the pommel, to hang from the thong, as a talisman for another of Ieuen's men. Then I gave him the iron tang for Ieuen's man Augustine, who forges, that the Unbidden Gift might add steel to another blade's spine.
And I gave him the brass pommel-cap, which is good for little alone, and I bade Cynred Sure-Spear bear it south this summer, and cast it into the lake with Ieuen's last ring. And this he said he would do.
And no debts of steel were claimed or owed, and my conscience is a little lighter, and every word is true.
And I told Cynred, that I would be pleased if the shaft of that spear would someday be graven to read:
Sure Spear my nature: Sure-Spear my master
Spear-Sure his heart; Spear Sure my hope
Rings rest light on him; hard rings the spear-point
His gift unbidden; Unbidden Gift come home
And he said it would be so.
And later that night, as the moon waned as it listened to Marian's songs, I remembered another true story, and Her Excellency Elina said I could tell it, and I did.
Some years ago I travelled to Aethelmearc, when my sword-brother Haakon was Prince in those lands, to teach at the University in Thescorre. I taught a class in Bardic Arts, and I taught it as is my wont; I found a patient gentle two hours before the class and sang songs and told tales and recited verse. I talked about what the songs said and what I meant they'd say, and I thought on heroes and history, and after two hours of this exercise I was ready to teach a class.
The most patient Lord who sat and listened to me that day was Lord Clement of Morocco, and I was in his debt.
A few months later I returned to Aethelmearc, to the feast that marks the passing of the Ice Dragon. I found Lord Clement and offered some entertainment at dinner, which he accepted, though he was busy and could not tarry at his table. He bade me entertain those sitting with him, two lovely ladies and a lad of thirteen. I sang and told and the ladies were appreciative, but the lad was enthralled.
I took a chance and pulled from my book the best poem I have ever written; I didn't really write it, I think. It just came to me, whole and complete, image upon image and line upon line. I wondered if it would be over his head, but I read it anyway.
I am the first Master of the Laurel in the Bardic Arts made in the Middle Kingdom. I have sung to Kings and Princes, I have stood in the courts of the mighty and told the tales of glory to all the Known World as a Kingdom took its great steps to birth. I have won rings and cheers, and never have I been better rewarded than by a thirteen-year old boy, eyes round as saucers, who said to me "That was really good."
This lad's first exposure to these lands was the great Crystal Ball a few weeks before and he was amazed by the beauty of the ladies and the grandeur of the lords. His second event was Ice Dragon and he had watched the tourneys with great joy. However, I think what was best was what I said and sang. You see, he had found a place of legends and glory, and now someone was corroborating the tales, showing him both old legends and the people who made those legends, for many were there and I could point them out. It seemed real; the tales told him it was real. He could see that heroes still walk the earth, and in that hall and that company he could feel the ground shake from their tread.
To see the glory reflected in the lad's eyes was good for my soul, and I remembered afresh why I sing and tell.
Another time I took the field at Pennsic, and found myself alone on the far edge of the battlefield during the great field battle. Before me I saw Bear, Prince of Aethelmearc, wounded in his legs, kneeling and facing Jafar, Crown Prince of the Middle who was likewise wounded. Bear's squires -- five or six, as I recall -- stood behind their Knight but did nothing else, for the two Princes agreed to match skill with skill. I stood off, away from Jafar, and watched the two wounded Princes have at each other with two swords. Blades flew and Bear fell, and Jafar readied his swords to meet the squires seeking revenge.
And then a man named Boniface Finnegal, from Ealdormere, stepped up from behind Jafar and stepped around him like in a dance. Boniface stood beside and in front of his Prince, his right foot planted between Jafar's knees, and Jafar slid into his protector's left hip, and the two met the foe.
Boniface did many gallant things that War, and he stood with Jafar in the woods that summer and for his loyalty Princess Catherine did give him a splendid woven belt; but I did not see that.
I saw Boniface and Jafar in the field, and I cannot recall a more glorious deed. That day I stood, amazed, as two heroes held that corner of the field and the earth shook from their blows, and I watched them with eyes wide as saucers.
Copyright A. McLean 1998. All rights reserved.
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