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A Word of Warning

My first set of blog posts is about Irish mythology.

Irish mythology is non-stop, no hold barred, complete madness. These stories have plot twists that would make M Night Shyamalan dizzy. Sometimes they just stop. You think you’re a hero eloping with your sweet virgin goddess girlfriend? WRONG! Some other asshole in a boat just played a magic flute and she fell asleep and they’re sailing off leaving you to explain a beach full of fifty drowned virgins.

These stories evolved over time, in front of camp and dinner fires, and the best storytellers got to tell their versions more often. People grew up with their own preferences, they might have liked the way their dad told a story over their uncle, or they liked the sly jokes their grandmother snuck in. Either way, these stories don’t have the convention structure that we expect now.

So hold onto your butts.

Write Me in Your Style Part 2:

Rye Blood by Dasha Maiorovahttps://dashamaiorova.com/2020/07/05/ryeblood/?fbclid=IwAR0F0BzaYq1DL_BuXy6Ffh0An2qVNNG–jRWB_udF2riZuZGW93O9F3buEc

I am ridiculously proud of this moment. I present to you a short story written by a dear friend and captive writer that I have trapped in my orbit, Dash M. Her writing is bleak and cold and sharp and in many ways the opposite of mine. My writing is loud and raucous and can’t decide if it is funny or scary, both come at you from unexpected directions. I can’t help but feel clumsy in comparison to her grace.

Rye is itself a product of fan fiction, in a sense, though it has passed through years of cycling ideas and concepts to come to its current form to be the object of my demented love. It began with a short story called Goblin Lake by a writer whose name I remember to be Marcus… something………… and I was so ANGRY at his story that I spent the next FIVE YEARS bothering my friends shouting at them with ideas of what I would have done instead. Some of the things I have shouted have been drafts of stories. A great many of the things I shouted are in Rye.

I am very lucky that this story is a piece of love and not rage. Dash has taken a moment of my main character’s childhood and really grasped the vulnerability and uncertainty not only of my changeling, but of her parents and of the children around her.

It not being published yet, enjoy this rare sneak peek into Rye!

Ash

My artist friends often do “draw me in your style” pieces where they take a piece by an admired artist and reimagine it. I wrote Ash as essentially a piece of fanfiction for my friend Dash’s novel Birch and it actually ended up a nice little ghost story.

Ash

When the people said my sister had gone missing, they were simply being polite. They all knew where she was. When she did not come home before dark, when she did not come home in time to curl up in bed with me, our parents exchanged only grim glances. No one asked Where is Kulya? except me. When she did not come back in the morning, bitten by the cold, they all knew.

            “She is in the field.” My mother answered as she served dinner, such as it was. “And that is the same as being gone,” she said as she tucked me into bed, such as it was. My sister was not the first girl that had gone to the field.

I listened very carefully for my mother’s breathing to go deep and slow. My father’s breath was always deep and slow; laborious as his struggle into and out of his old chair. I had to wait for it to begin its stop-start, loud-soft, strangled place. I crept out of bed, holding my clothes to dress outside. I tip-toed across the floor, picking my way among the rough floorboards, and tried not to look at my shadow slung long and wicked against the wall. Sometimes I think she will turn against me, that shadow.

I dressed clumsily in the night air, struggling into Kulya’s woollen dress over the top of mine, and then my coat, and then hers. Still, the air found its way in like a living thing and burned me. Squeezed me. Kulya could only be colder, so I walked. Feet already numb, I didn’t try to lift them high and risk a sprained ankle. I skimmed them over the ground, let my toes in their boots knock-knock the roots and rocks. The night was so clear and dark, the sky above me laced with silver and endless except where the black trees cut a sharp and jagged horizon. The clouds of the day had shed their tears and moved on, I kept mine inside.

I repeated to myself that there were no wolves here anymore. Father might grumble about wild dogs, but hadn’t he reassured us so many times they didn’t come near the home lights? I chanced a look back and was not comforted, the village night fires could not penetrate the trees this far. I was alone, and for the first time considered the possibility of losing myself. I caught myself once, thinking there was a white shape watching me. Not Kulya, but some other pale waif standing by. Just out of the corner of my eye. When I turned to look there was nothing there. The only one crazy enough to be out at this hour was me, and somewhere, my sister.

I could not find the field. As the night got blacker and colder, and I stumbled and gasped and rubbed my cheeks, and startled at every noise, suddenly the thought of Kulya being colder and lonelier only made me sadder instead of braver. I quailed, and groped my way home again.

“You can’t find the field,” mother snorted as she served breakfast, which was the same as dinner but worse after a night congealing in the pot. “The lost field cannot be found.” Father was already gone. Not to look for Kulya, but to work. It was what men did to take their minds off their grief. Mother would keep hers inside until later, when she could pour it down the well in a long wail like when grandmother died. My grief was a sneaking hungry thing, a rat in my mind. It wanted to go hunting again.

It took longer that night for my parents to fall asleep, they were sadder than I had given them credit for. I realised as I lay there, listening to the sounds my parents were making, that I had never really believed they had loved Kulya as much as I did.

When I was able to creep from my bed, I found my way through the door barred by a girl dressed in a white shift. There were bad marks on her, and she did not seem bothered by the cold, so she must have been dead.

            “If you want your sister to come home, you need to bring back a pot of her ashes.”

            I met her gaze as much as I dared, “There is plenty of her things already here for her to follow home.”

            The ghost frowned, and reached out an icy hand to grasp me by the wrist. She made to pull me outside, and she was stronger than you would warrant for a ghost. “No,” I said, and she let go. She walked away, and the rat in my mind screamed to follow her into the forest.

The next morning, there was a little clay pot in front of our door. It was sealed with waxed cloth. My father inspected it eagerly, thinking maybe a neighbour had delivered him some samahon, but he recoiled at the contents and threw the little pot as far as he could. I said nothing of the uninvited guest of the night before. I said nothing the next day, when my mother found two little clay pots by the door. She looked at me anyway, a shrewd accusatory edge to her exhausted and tear stained eyes. I held my tongue. She made a little fire and burned the pots and mixed the ashes into the rubbish pit. The smell was eye watering. Stomach churning. For days, the smell of burned hair and flesh pervaded the house, and each morning brought more pots. The fine silvery marks of fingernails scratching at the door. Cracks in the window panes. Ashes creeping under the doors to gather in the corners of our home like dust.

After a week, the house was surrounded by starving girls. Hurt girls. I was angry. The first ghost I had seen was there, and she stood defiantly at the window each night, eyes burning at me. Would she bring back every girl but my sister to spite me? I had not believed that night that she really meant for me to find my sister, I thought she wanted me to become lost too. Now, I thought, as I stared back her, that what she really wanted was my ashes.

“Tell me about the field.” I asked my mother. We both had rags tied over our mouths. The air outside was thick with smoke, although the rubbish fire had been allowed to go out. The smoke let the girls stand outside, even during the day.

            “There’s nothing to tell.” My mother replied obstinately. “The field is lost. Like Kulya. Like your grandmother. Gone.”

            “Like it’s dead?” I asked.

            “Yes.” My mother nodded, “Yes. It is dead. There is a man, a bad man, who owns all of the land around here. He is our lord, and we could not rightly refuse anything we grew or made here. But he doesn’t want anything we grow or make, except our daughters. It must make a man angry, to spend so much money on earth that is dead.”

            “Father spreads ashes on the ground because he says it makes things grow.” I said, thoughtfully. My mother recoiled from me, appalled. How many girls would it take to bring the lost field back to life, I wondered.

            “That field does not want for ashes,” my mother said softly, bitterly, when she thought I was not listening any more.

         The girls pressed against the house at night, and made the walls creak and groan under the pressure. The windows broke and the cold became an oppressive weight on our backs. They tried to open the door, and hissed and snarled at each other. The first ghost, the girl in just her white shift, stood a little further back. She always stood where I would be able to see her. If she thought I would give up myself to save my parents, she would wait a long time. The only one I would give myself up for was Kulya. It made me feel bad, I was learning a lot of things about myself I could have happily never known. I was learning how cold and hungry I could be, what stench and pain I could endure, and still stare down the ghost of a murdered girl my own age every night. The rat in my mind clawed at my resolve, wanted to follow the ghost to my sister, but if my sister was truly gone then I was not going anywhere. I wanted my sister, but I also wanted to live.

            “There used to be a church,” My father wheezed one night as my mother slept. I was not even pretending to be asleep. I stood by the window, viciously slapping each pale cold hand that reached through the broken glass panes. “There was a church until the massacre, and then it was just a field, covered in ashes. People tried to rebuild on it, to grow on it, to move on, but it was dead. Dead and hungry. When you burn wood, it becomes charcoal, and you use it to burn other wood faster. When you burn people–”

            “I went looking for Kulya.” I admitted finally, able to say to this sad, sick man what I could not to my mother. “One of the ghosts followed me home.”

            “I suppose it’s only a matter of time before she is out there too,” my father sounded resigned. “He thinks he owns the field, but it will work him like a pit pony to get what it wants.” He yawned; a glottal, fleshy sound. “It will force him to stay alive, and he thinks that is what he wants but he doesn’t know what waits when the flesh fails.”

            “Who?”

            “Your mother told you,” my father’s voice was drowsy in the dark.

Kulya stands at the door, and she jostles and shoves with the other girls. She tells me not to open the door even as she scratches and claws at the wood, and wrenches at the handle. She tells me she loves me through the broken window panes and not to look at her face, her poor body. What the man did to her before he gave her to the field forever. She tells me she wishes I’d had time to run away, that she will hold them back as long as she can if I want to try.

            When I do, she is the first one that catches me.

Telling the Bees

We should bring this one back, guys.

Native Irish Black Bees

Imagine for a moment you are the heroine in a period romance. Your thick black mane of hair is escaping the purple ribbon your great aunt gave you for your birthday. You are hard at work churning butter on the stoop, in the garden you can see the burgeoning weeds that will represent your next lot of chores and you are full of anxiety about the proud newcomer you ran into in a muddy lane who turns out to be the most eligible bachelor in town.

Your most loyal confidante would be the bees buzzing around you. Women told their bees everything; comings and goings, births and deaths, the best and worst of life.

It was important to tell them about a death in the family, or the bees would die too, and as such could be formally invited to funerals.

Bees were known for their wisdom, and were believed to be messengers between this life and the next. What I’ve read online suggested that telling the bees was a way to keep the gods updated about what was happening on Earth, but considering the close familial relationship the Irish had with their bees, I personally think it might be more to do with hoping the bees would pass on these stories to family that had passed on, that were dearly missed.

The native Irish Black bee was thought to be extinct until quite recently, almost wiped out by acarine mites. Attempts to breed them with impored breeds had mixed success. Recently the encouraging evidence suggests that the native bees are on the rise again, though are still endangered.

Angus Og

Part 2

I hope you’re excited for more pig related high jinks, or even maybe swinjinks? Because ya boy Angus Og is back on his bullshit.

This one time Angus threw a big party for Finn (read more about him in an upcoming post but for now suffice to say he is sort of the Hercules of Irish mythology) and his army of up for anything mates (the Fianna). Ten hundred of them. Angus might have been conventionally hot, but Finn was the life of the party.

Angus and Finn, sitting at the head table, get good and drunk. Because he loves talking shit, Angus turns to Finn and says “It is a better life this, than to be hunting.” To which Finn, who is all about hunting, basically throws back that life ain’t shit without armies and battles, or at least a good hound at your side.

But Finn, Angus replies, why even bring up hounds when yours couldn’t even kill a single pig?

The ever living ones themselves couldn’t have a pig my girls couldn’t kill, Finn argues, taking the bait.

I’ve got a pig, says Angus, that will kill both of your dumb dogs.

A year later Angus sends a messenger to Finn to ask if he is ready to make good on his challenge. and of course Finn is 100% up for any and everything 24/7 365. He and his best buddies gather their hounds and stand waiting on a hill, generally back slapping and feeling pretty good, when suddenly they see at the edge of the plain to the east a herd of truly monstrous pigs coming towards them. They’re the size of deer, and each more black and bristly than the last except for the one at the front which is the biggest, blackest and bristliest of them all. The fight is a huge mess of pigs and men and dogs and honestly it’s not going that great until Finn’s best hound Bran manages to get the biggest one by the throat. It a compelling image, a normal sized hunting dog hanging off the neck of a boar the size of a deer, it’s hard to image the pig even knew she was there, but she brings it down and Finn wins the challenge. Angus, meanwhile, shows up and is losing his damn mind. It turns out that the pigs were the sons of all the kings of the Tuatha de Danaan (the immortals, highest of the folk) with Angus’s son being the big one Bran killed, which means he is in way over his head.

When all is said and done there are 110 pigs still living, but Finn has lost ten hundred men. I hope that’s a transcription error because that is how many he had to begin with. Finn and his men decide to burn the dead pigs so they can’t come back to life, but they can’t get a single pig to catch alight. Bran, being the super-smart extra good girl that she is disappears off somewhere and comes back with three magic logs and those pigs burn up just fine.

Finn decides to go and confront Angus for justice over the dead men, but Angus and Finn can’t stop the same dumb one up-manship that got them into this trouble in the first place. Angus offers any one single thing that he could give Finn to spare his people from Finn’s revenge but Finn says all he wants is to destroy Angus’s lands. Angus says well if you do that, I’ll curse your dog, because all those pigs were princes and their dads are really mad at me now.

Finn is like don’t curse my dog or I’ll burn down your house.

And Angus is like if you burn down my house I’ll curse you so that everywhere you walk trees and big rocks are always in your way, and I have a magic ring so I’ll always be able to tell how many men are in your armies so there.

At this point Oisin, who is Finn’s son and one of his best men, has to step in so everyone can move on with their lives. Finn and Angus exchange foster children as a show of good faith but they’re not friends any more.

Finn

and the Fianna

There are a lot of amazing stories about Finn and we could easily start at the beginning where he is an orphaned prince raised in the woods by old druidesses, and some poets, and then the vagabonds who murdered the poets, and then the druidesses again. The first duck he ever hunted. The guys that didn’t like him because he was better at swimming than they were. The first of the Tuatha de Danaan that he ever killed and the grateful king that made him the leader of the army known as the Fianna…

Finn may have been, essentially the perfect blend of gods and men that the age of heroes aspired to; he had a fiery temper in battle but in diplomacy was always even headed and fair (the exception being, it seems, any of his dealings with Angus Og), he worked always to be generous and fair, never promised anything he could not deliver, and never betrayed a confidence. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t get into his fair share of scrapes, particularly with women.

The Shadowy One

On the mountain of Bearnas Mor, Finn and his best girl Bran were hunting and they came across a wild pig. The pig almost gets the best of Bran but, being the strong female character pupper that she is, she gets the upper hand in the end. With the pig’s dying scream, a very tall druid emerges from the mountain through what I can only assume is one of those sliding doors from 90’s cartoon villain lairs. He escorts them into the mountain and into the realm of the Sidhe, who traditionally live inside mountains, hills and mounds. There, inside the mountain, he introduces Finn to Scathach. The Shadowy One.

Sidhe are a race of beings that aren’t gods, but they’re not not gods either. Amongst them there are the ageless Tuatha de Danaan and the mortal Sons of Mil. They have tribes and fight over territory.

Scathach and her father invite Finn to stay for a meal and Finn asks Scathach for her hand in marriage. Her father gives his blessing and Scathach brings out her harp to play. The harp has three strings, one of iron, one of silver and one of bronze. The iron string will set the host (Christianity seeps in, I don’t know at the point of writing what the original wording would have been) crying forever. The bronze string would set them laughing for a day. But it is the silver string that she plays and it puts all of the world of men to sleep.

When Finn wakes up, he and Bran are back out on the mountain where they killed the pig. Was he married to Scathach? It never comes up again. But fear not because he definitely tries to marry one of the Sidhe again and it goes roughly the way you would expect.

Daireann, daughter of legendary Bob Dearg, a Sidhe queen in her own right, approaches Finn one day when he and his men are sitting on a hill. She offers to marry him on two conditions. The first is that she be his only wife for the first year and then have half of his days after that.

And he says no. Absolutely not. Never, no way, no woman. Ever. No.

Now, back in the day it was not unusual for young men and women to live together as man and wife for a year before they committed to staying married, and after that twelve months had the option to leave, no harm no foul. So, her first condition isn’t so unreasonable. I do understand his reluctance on the second condition because this isn’t his first rodeo. He;s been caught out before. Half of his days is a sinister stipulation too. If he is, say, 30 years old at this point, and agrees, and she leaves after ten years he knows that he only has ten more years left to live. What if she leaves after one year?

Daireann responds to his refusal by giving him a cup of mead and it just so happens that Finn is under a curse so that he cannot refuse anything that belongs to a feast which is so specific. It must have been one of those things that he wasn’t even concerned about at the time, like sure ok whatever how could having to accept food and drinks from people ever backfire. Even now, if someone laid a curse on me that I had to accept food and drinks from people I would be like is that even a curse I would always say yes anyway. Oh No, fReE FoOd aNd WiNe hOw wIlL I eVeR EnDuRe iT?

So he drinks the mead and it is of course magic mead, or maybe it is was just really strong, because it turns Finn into a total wad. He starts talking smack about all of his friends, just laying it all out. Every petty little mean thought he’d ever had, everything his men had ever done to annoy him, every mistake they had ever made. Everyone gets really mad and gradually abandons him, raving away on the hill, off his face on fairy mead. Everyone except Caoilte.

Caoilte was an absolute goddamn madman, and he absolutely deserves his own post. For now, we will simply say that if he didn’t 100% love Finn, he would have 100% murdered Finn and everyone else. He;s a skinny grey haired guy who could run the fastest of all the Fianna; who killed a five headed giant with a door, killed an enchanted boar no one else could kill; and would kill again at the drop of a hat. This one time Finn was taken hostage and– no. Wait. That story is epic. We’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Back to Caoilte on the hill, trying to calm down his drunk friend. He goes after everyone, basically like “you know he didn’t mean it, he loves you. The fairy lady got him messy drunk, she’s just causing trouble.”

It takes him 13 trips but he eventually gets everyone back and Finn sobers up. Apart from that other thing, its the hardest thing Caoilte ever had to work.

And then there was this one time a woman tried to make Finn fall in love with her by getting him to eat some magic nuts but he was like “Pfft no, I’m not eating those weird nuts, they might be a love spell,” so he buries them instead.

Arthur

what a dick.

Imagine for a moment that you are Arthur, King of the Britons. You are the hero of an epic romance, wielder of the sword Excalibur. Your reign is the legacy of magic and betrayal and court intrigue. Fate, murder and destiny. You and your men will face off against Morgan le Faye, the romans and go to Ireland to steal a dog.

Wait, what?

Arthur, at this point, is still the son of the king of Briton, and travels to visit Finn with three times nine men. Twenty seven men. They are hunting one day and, arranging their efforts so that the sea will stop the deer escaping, Arthur sees Finn with his best girls, Bran, Sceolan and Adhnuall. Even cursory reading of the Fianna legends will tell you no one, I mean no one, messes with Bran and gets away with it.

It’s not like there weren’t other dogs. Finn had 300 hounds with 200 whelps, and if Arthur had just asked Finn would have given him the best of them. He’s just that kind of guy. But, apparently immediately after the hunt when they are counting the dogs Finn notices three conspicuous absences. He sends for his golden bowl of water and plunges his face into the water, and then puts his hand over his face, and… I don’t know. Has a vision? Is it a magic bowl? Finn is usually a foil for magic, he doesn’t usually use it himself. Was he just washing his face and suddenly realises that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who was there before Bran went missing and wasn’t there after? His acquaintance-at-best, Arthur Pendragon.

He sends nine men after him, an unusually measured response from someone who threw ten hundred of his men against a drunken bet. Three of them are, however, his sons and roughly the equivalent of a hundred men each anyway, so it is still overkill. They find Arthur and his men straight away because the moment they got back to England they just relaxed on the beach. They kill everyone except for Arthur himself and that’s only because Goll stopped them. As they take the hounds and houndnapper back to Ireland, Goll notices a pretty cool horse standing nearby with a gold bridle, and a mare standing beside it wearing a silver bridle.

Now, I’m pretty sure that two fancy horses wearing gold and silver bridles near a prince probably belong to that prince, but after the bloodbath that just occurred over three dogs, Arthur wasn’t saying shit. He becomes Finn’s bondsman for the rest of his days, because really what choice did he have, but the important part of the story is that they didn’t have horses before, and the mare that Goll brought back bore eight foals eight times and from those sixty four horses came all of the horses the Fianna rode thereafter.

Angus Og

Part 1

The first character that caught my eye was Angus Og.

Angus Og is one of the ever living ones. He wears a lot of flashy gold jewellery and clothing, and carries a gold and silver harp. Whether due to magic or his overwhelming hotness, when he plays that harp, the people around him start to feel drunk.

He’s also got four asshole birds that used to be his kisses, and all they do all day long is fly around and annoy people. “I come! I come!” they sing as they swoop around your head, “I go! I go!” and it’s almost impossible to get rid of them.

As impossibly sexy as he is, Angus is also known as Frightener, or Disturber. If you were a farmer, minding your own business with your plough team, when Angus Og came strutting down the lane you were in for trouble because livestock flee in terror before him.

Famously, a lot of women loved Angus but one which warrants particular mention is Derbrenn. She had six foster children, three boys and three girls. The boy’s mother, Dalb Garb, tricks them into eating magic nuts that turn them into pigs. I don’t know why. But, I guess, six rowdy piglets would be hard to look after so Derbrenn and Angus leave them in the care of a local hoteller called Buichet.

We’re worldly people, we can all tell immediately that leaving six healthy pigs with people that run a busy hotel is probably a bad idea, but Buichet must have been an extraordinarily honourable man because he never considers eating any of them. His wife, however, barely lasts twelve months before she tries to take a bite out of one. When they flee in terror, she sends one hundred presumably quite bemused men with one hundred hounds to catch them.

The pigs reach Angus ahead of the hounds and beg for help. It’s not clear if Angus understands animals, or if the pigs can still speak with a human tongue. That would be the more horrifying angle, because Mrs Buichet definitely would have understood them begging her to let them live. Now, Angus might be immortal and all that but he still has his limitations. He explains to the pigs that there is nothing he can do until they have travelled to Tarbga and shaken the mighty tree there, and eaten the salmon of Inver Umaill. They get as far as Tarbga, but before they can get to Inver Umaill someone called Maeve comes out of freaking nowhere and slaughters all but one of them. But, Angus had a new girlfriend now, so is it really even still his problem?