Yesterday was a very good day for writing. I haven't written much in weeks. Work has been intense, and I dread opening my in-box at the moment, but yesterday I refused to connect to the internet. Instead, I sat down on the sofa, opened my MS and rolled up my sleeves.
Very happy with the results. Words came a lot easier than I was expecting. Had fun with a new character. In the original translation, he is thus mentioned:
It was about that time it happened them to meet with a young man of good race, and his name was Aibric; and he often took notice of the birds, and their singing was sweet to him and he loved them greatly, and they loved him. And it is this young man that told the whole story of all that had happened them, and put it in order.
Oh, really - thought I. Well, of course, if this story comes to us by the hand of Aibric, then Aibric is going to paint himself as a man of upstanding 'good race'.
So, I thought I'd mess with that a little.
I much admired the dirty lyrics of R. R. Martin in Mance Rayder's tent. What ancient fantasy story is complete without a little blue ditty? So, I gave it my best shot. Aibric starts out in this story as a letcherous, drunken bard, and this is his song:
Oh, her skirts were covered in mud – in mud!My pretty white Lilly, my love
So I said, if your skirts are covered in mud
Lift ‘em up to Heaven above – above!
She lifted her skirts and between her legsI saw something wetter than mudI said to my Lilly, my Lilly, my loveBest you lie down in your bedFor she lifted her skirts to Heaven aboveIn doing so, this I now knowFor Heaven ain’t there, above – above!Heaven’s right here down below!
Not bad for ten minutes' musing.
Anyway, I quite like Aibric.
If I could sit down and do the same amount of writing again, I reckon I'd be near enough finished in four days. But, sadly, I must return to the real world today. Fingers crossed I can snatch one more day later this week. Being busy certainly focuses the mind when you eventually do get to write.
I'll leave you with this. As ever, very rough, unedited. It's from very early on in the novel, two of my favourite characters meeting.
It felt like the best thing we’d ever done leaving Sidhe Fionnachaidh behind. I knew it the moment we rode out that morning with half our clan behind us dragging the ox carts and the tents. My horse, fast-footed, skipped and sidled as soon we were out the fort, as though he knew he had finally found his freedom. My lungs burst like bellows from galloping across the open grass, leaving behind the thick, stifling air of my father’s melancholy.
From that first night at Sidh-ar-Femhin I felt as though I had truly come home. The great settlement of my grandfather was full to bursting with light and song and dancing. There was food there to feed all the armies of the Tuatha Dé Danann, with enough left over for the spirits and the fire.
Whilst my sister span and laughed with aunt Ailbhe, I raced into the crowds before anyone could think to ask me to take charge of my brothers. I knew it was just what you ask of the eldest boy, to take care of his kin, but I knew Fiachra and Conn had no need of my protection. They would have a far finer time of it without me, and I without them.
I don’t know what I was looking for that night, rather I was looking at everything. I wanted to drink in the scene with my eyes so as not to forget a moment of it. Deep in my heart I held to the fear that next morning my father might change his mind, throw us back into the saddle and force us to ride for home. I think I was collecting memories that night, that I could relive them over and over in my mind, back in my silent bed above the water.
The Feast of Age was glorious. All the The Men of Dea came from far and wide. By day they threw long spears and raced by foot from vale to vale whilst by night they washed themselves down in oil and wrestled beside the hot embers. Awards were given of precious stones and armour, and between the clans a half-hundred handfastings took place. Some of the brides pretty, some less so but hardy and quick with a smile.
I walked between them, taking the measure of each man, flexing my muscles and comparing my shape with theirs. I saw small men fighting with stealth, tipping the weight of giants with their speed and cunning. I shadowed their movements, testing the reach of my arm and the clench of my fist.
The great warrior Cumhaill, head of my grandfather’s guard, was fighting with Goll mac Morna, the only other man a match for his strength. They beat down their chests with earth and cried the ancient battle cry of war, the diord fionn, before setting to. Goll got in the first punch, spit flying from Cumhaill’s mouth and fizzing to steam on the fire. His advantage did not last long however, as Cumhaill regained his balance and charged Goll like a bull, butting his head square against his bare chest and felling him, landing astraddle and smashing his face first with the left fist, then the right, then the left again.
I was cheering for Cumhaill, copying the movement of his throws, when suddenly I found myself face down in the dirt, sprawled like a clumsy maid.
“Cac ar oineach, what’d you do that for?”
“Want to try it for real?” my assailant grinned down at me. He was a slim-shouldered boy, but tall, his red hair as curly as my own. “Caílte mac Rónáin,” he said, offering me his hand.
Like an idiot, I took it and he dropped me on my arse.
“First lesson if you want to be a fighter,” he said, that grin growing wider. “Never trust the man who’s hitting you.”
“Piss off,” I said, scrambling to my feet.
“Second lesson, don’t give him reason to hit you again.”
I glared at Caílte, drawing myself up to full height, which wasn’t even his neck.
“Come on, want to see something?”
“Don’t be like that, I was only teasing.”
“Yeah, well I don’t trust you.”
“You learn fast,” he laughed. “But come on, it’ll be fun.”
Reluctant to leave the fight, which was now in full swing, Goll having wrapped his arm around Cumhaill in a headlock, I blew my hair out of my eyes and turned into the crowd. I followed Caílte out to the edges of the settlement, where the heat of the fires hardly reached and the chill night caused me to shiver.
“Hush, listen,” he said, turning to me and holding up his hand. “Do you hear that?”
“What?” I said, still sulking from before.
All around I heard people breathing like the bellows of the blacksmiths. Between the rush of air were high pitched gasps and murmured names.
“Curious?” he asked, and I nodded. “Can you guess what it is?”
I could not, so he took me by the hand and led me to one of the huts nearby.
There on the floor were men and women, their half-naked bodies entwined and writhing like snakes. Hands fondled breasts and members, legs and lips parted, oblivious to our presence. In one corner two men were kissing, their bodies pressed flat against one another. I felt something tighten beneath my tunic and turned away.
Caílte laughed and pulled me on to the next hut and the next; in every hut the same.
“Come on, let’s get a drink,” he said, when the heat of the blood in my cheeks threatened to roast me alive. “They’re celebrating the death of the old with the birth of the new. Come spring there’ll be half an army born at Sidh-ar-Femhin and we’ll have to expand the walls of the fort to contain them.”
That night I drank until the urge inside me abated. I had never been drunk at my father’s fort, not like this. It was half the wine and half the intoxication of freedom, of being so far from my crannog prison.
My companion was the nephew of Cumhaill, that warrior I most admired, yet despite our introduction he was not a warrior by heart. When we were drunk he recited poems to the fire and plucked a clàrsach from a sleeping druid, playing it fine enough to my mead-muffled ears.
That is the sadness, you see. In all the years and all that was to come – all that they did to us – they forgot what truly mattered. In writing and rewriting our deaths, they forgot to tell that we ever truly lived.