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time they would learn a love which bards would celebrate a thousand years hence. But, as is so often the
way with two such strong-willed mates, their first days of marriage chafed them both.
When the last lord had departed to his hearth, we also departed: the Cymbrogi with Cador and Bors to
Caer Melyn, and the rest of us, Cai, Bedwyr, Llenlleawg, myself and Arthur, to Ierne with Gwenhwyvar.
It is a short voyage and the weather stayed fair.
I remembered Ierne as a green gem set in a silver sea. It is a shallow bowl of an island, lacking Prydein's
rough crags; what hills Ierne boasts are gentle and wooded, and its few mountains are not high.
Expansive and numerous are its plains, which grow good grain in plenty. If the island's contentious kings
ever stopped slaughtering one another, they might find themselves possessing grain-wealth enough to
attract trade from the east for the upbuilding of their people.
It is a damp land, alas, suffering almost continual inundation by both sea and sky. Even so, the rain is
soft, filling the rivers and streams with sweet water. The ale of the Irish is surprisingly good, for all they
make it with scorched grain  yet another mystery concerning this baffling race.
We sailed into a bay on the northeastern coast. I heard a loud whoop, and Cai, standing beside me at
the rail, said, 'It is Fergus, bless him. He is wading out to welcome us.' Even as he spoke I heard the
splash of someone striding through the tidewash.
Fergus shouted something which I did not catch, and a moment later, a strange, shrill wail sounded from
the beach. 'What is happening, Cai?'
'Fergus' bards, I think. He has his retinue with him, and the bards are making a sort of music for us with
pig bladders.' He paused. 'Most peculiar.'
I had encountered the instrument before: an odd conflux of pipes which in their hands produce a
laudable variety of sounds: now crooning, now crying, now piercing as a scream, now sighing and low.
When played with the harp, which they often did, this piping made a most enjoyable music. And the
voices ofEire's bards are almost as good as those of the Cymry.
Many among the Learned Brotherhood hold that the men of Green Ierne and the black hills of Prydein
were brothers before Manawyddan's waters divided them. Perhaps that is the way of it. The people are
dark, for the most part, like the mountain Cymry, and they are keen-witted and as ready for laughter as a
fight. Like the Celts of elder times, they are generous in all things, especially song and celebration. They
love dancing, and think themselves ill-treated if they are not allowed to move their feet when theirfilidh
play the harp and pipe.
Fergus was lord of a small realm on the northern coast in Dal Riata; his principal stronghold was called
Muirbolc after one of his noble kinsmen. His hall and holding, as Cai described it to me, was fashioned
on the old style: a number of small round houses  dwellings, grain stores, craftsmen's huts, cookhouses
 surrounded a great timber hall with a high-pitched roof of thatch. An earthen wall topped by a
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palisade of sharpened timber had been flung around the whole. Beyond the wall were fields and cattle
pens, and forest.
Inside the hall, which served as the king's house as well as the gathering place for all his folk, the great
stone hearth blazed both day and night. Along the walls on either side of the hearth were booths with
wicker-work walls where people could rest or withdraw more privately, and at the head of the hearth
stood an enormous table, the king's table, fixed to the rooftrees on either side.
Fergus led us to his stronghold and stood before the gate. 'You are welcome in Fergus' dwelling, my
friends. Enter and take your ease. Let your cares be as the mist that melts at morning's touch. Come, let
us eat and drink, and celebrate the union of our noble tribes together.'
He greatly prized the marriage of his daughter and regarded Arthur as both kinsman and dearest friend.
Never have I seen a lord so desirous of pleasing his guests as Fergus mac Guillomar. His good humour
never flagged, and bounty, such as he could command, flowed from him like the waters of the silver
Siannon. Fergus' fortunes, while still scant, had nevertheless improved since allying himself with Arthur.
He possessed a fine herd of horses, and bred hounds second to none. He gave gifts to us all, and to
Arthur he also gave a hound pup, which would be trained to battle and the hunt.
Fergus' daughter, too, was desirous of securing our good favour. Gwenhwyvar had brought Arthur to
Muirbolc to deliver her dower to him, and a most unusual gift it was. But before I tell of it, I must first tell
of the miracle that took place while we sojourned inEire.
There were priests in the region who constantly sought to persuade Fergus to grant them lands on which
to build a church and community for themselves. They also wished the king to join the Christianogi, of
course, though they would settle for land.
Fergus did not trust them. He had got it into his head that once a king bent the knee to the Lord Christ,
he became impotent. As Fergus was a man who greatly enjoyed the company of beautiful women, in
which his realm abounded, it was a difficult thing for him to look favourably on any belief which
threatened his pleasure.
'That is absurd,' I told him, upon discovering the source of his reluctance. 'Do not the priests take wives
like other men? I tell you they do  and children are born to them. Their faith does not make them less
potent than other men, God knows. You have swallowed a lie, Fergus.'
'Oh, I am certain these priests are excellent in every way. I hold no enmity for them,' he agreed lightly. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]




 

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