A Study in Ancestors and Rust

 

The giant stands across the dark river with one foot on each side. Glints of silver can be seen in the waters that rush past between his feet. The darkness between them is the darkness of the night without moon. His eyes do not look down, but he is aware of the depths over which he spans. His boots are of the finest, strongest leather and are worked with golden spirals with red and blue centers. Each leads to another and another as they dance and multiply up from the soles of his feet almost to his knees. In the right light the gold lives and moves like the sprouts of a new meadow in the breezes of springtime. But tonight they sink into the soft earth at the edge of the mighty flow and feel the vibrations of what sustains both their owner and the river as she passes by.


His legs rise into the fog that sits in the valley where the river weaves herself in graceful curves that hold the potential to jump suddenly into the straight line of power. But today is not the day when she will heed that call and so she moves lazily on the edge of sleep. The giant shifts his feet for a better hold on the soft banks where he has taken his stand. Far above the edge of the grey fog of morning that hides his lower midsection, his chest is taking and releasing the wind of his breath more rapidly than his usual measured rumble. His great head with its carefully trimmed beard and wildly blowing raven-black hair moves to and fro as his great eyes search the distance.


Once his legs leave the boot-tops far below, his body is mostly without clothing of any kind. Across his surface is painted an incredibly intricate and interconnected maze of swirls, circles and curved lines. All are deep blue against his pale surface, and they flow over nearly every part of his skin. He lives in a world that is behind and beside the world of men. A world where things men do leave their mark long after those who did them are gone and the memory of their tales erased by the grinding of shallow memories. There are so few who can even remember the exact flavor of this morning’s breakfast now, much less the actions of their ancestors.


Tacaigh Le remembers for all those who forget. Some stories are kept in a form that would be unfamiliar, but recognizable to those who live in the world that forgets. But others are carried in a very different way. For reasons that are beyond language been connected across the web of life to a long series of men. Most of them do not even know that he exists, yet each of their lives carves one of the blue markings into his skin slowly over the course of the lifetime as it is lived and concludes with the man’s death. The character of the life lived determines the beauty and intricacy of the patterns. Tacaigh Le has always been aware of this, and only rarely reaches out to purposefully take responsibility for carrying the story of a life. He was already old when a seeker whose name is now known only to him carved holes into a bone and released the music he had heard in his dreams for the first time 40,000 years ago. The little details are known to Tacaigh Le, but he is more interested in the much bigger story all of the patterns made of the little details form together, and he has time to choose carefully.


Tacaigh Le has unusual skin that is covered in patterns made of all kinds of different marks. The markings cover almost his entire body, starting on the soles of his feet. They tell stories of laughter and tales of sadness between his toes. They form into sagas of long journeys to strange visions and back again that wrap around his arches and up towards his ankles. They sing pure carols of joy and light in which life itself is found and seen for what it truly is as they cross the top of his foot and climb his shins. Beauty and peace radiate from these markings and out into the energy surrounding the body that carries them forward through time and space.


Darker brothers and sisters of these designs also speak from Tacaigh Le’s skin. Blue-black curls scream of ruthless lust for power as they cross his kneecaps. A series of staccato dots chant harsh dirges of pride unbounded as they are stretched over his hip bone. The sonic ugliness that sounds from one who sees only the aims of his own desire emanates from two squares of unequal sizes to the left of his belly button. A ragged triangle that crosses over two ribs burns with the terrible swansongs of the destruction wrought by giving oneself fully to all these at once. The giant carries these songs with him at all times and remembers the events that caused them to be written across his skin.


The most delicate forms anywhere on is body have been recently and carefully cut onto the back of his massive hands. They are unique in their design and slightly different from the rest. The healing incisions are so fresh that the congealing blood still seeps out if he flexes his fingers too rapidly. These intricate miniatures unwind a story of a man who loved the land he worked and the women he lived with so much he put no thought into the moment when the helicopters came and he found that he must make a choice. He simply stood in front of the fire they brought and died so that his wife and daughter could live. Though the man is gone, the echo of his final act of a lifetime otherwise surprisingly without drama echos in the lines across the fingers of Tacaigh Le’s great hands.


In other places, there are other songs and other stories. They hold pictures of all the times and all the swords the hands that are now covered in the new designs have wielded. These images contain a forest of spears and the blood of men and women soaking slowly into the ground. They hold the remains of girls whose bodies were taken from them and cast aside in the valleys next to the bloody plains where their families died. The skill remains in these hands to do the same things over again in a new story, but the desire to follow that path is no longer present. As the farmer stood up and gave his body calmly to the flames to save his family, he burned away the last bit of the map Tacaigh Le carried to the places where the high of swallowing another’s life is found and left in its place a new road to travel. A road that now includes this moment where Tacaigh Le stands and looks into the mist above the river waiting for the sound of Trasnú’s voice.


This great being whose body reaches into so many realms and whose skin is a repository for so many stories is restless. His long memory is stirred and his considerable powers are at the ready because he has been given the care of a child and the child is missing. The only cause for concern at present is the absence of the small voice amidst the sounds along the riverbank. The giant is listening to the emptiness because he knows that this child cannot be left to play alone too long. He is a climber of boulders and a scaler of trees far beyond what is safe for one so small. He is also an opener of doors and a lifter of windows, nevermind where they lead or what may come through from behind them. Added to this already disturbing combination, he is starting to show signs of the power to see into other times and walk in other realms. So far this has only caused him fear and frustration because he has not learned anything about what this is for or how to come back whole and sound.


For all of these reasons the boy whose name is Trasnú has been placed in the giant’s care even though the top of his head when he is standing is barely above the toe of the great booted foot planted firmly on his side of the river’s bank. Trasnú’s former guardians hoped that the large size and deep wisdom of the giant would act as an anchor and harbor for the fire and air of Trasnú’s will. They sung prayers of desire for his future powers to be used for building and healing. They wailed laments for his thoughtless acts over which they had no control. Tacaigh Le looked on from his lofty vista and saw the many paths Trasnú could walk. He unraveled the tangled braid of the child’s future and was satisfied with what lay across his fingers and fell down over his elbows when the task was done. So he accepted the entreaty.


As Tacaigh Le made his decision, Trasnú ran across the flat sand, discarding clothes in all directions to dive into the river and float out into the current. He sang brightly with the ripples as he passed bend after bend. His eyes were full of clouds in the sky, his ears were full of the duet with the river, and his skin was full of the caress of water. He heard nothing as The Giant’s voice rumbled out a call to action in order to avoid the sharpness of the rocks at the foot of the waterfall around the last bend where the river fell from the high plain and down into the rapid trace that would bring her waters through strange countries and out to the sea. For Trasnú, there was no other time apart from the single luxurious moment of Now. His skin told no stories of anything else and his hands had not yet held anything but wonder at the life all around him.


He lived completely without care, which is a long journey from the act of living carefree. One who has made this particular journey knows what care is and has transcended or forgotten it. It wasn’t that the boy was unable to care. It was more that he had such an unshakeable belief in his own great share of the future that he spared no time for thought of what might come.


His former guardians also hoped that the abounding calm of the giant would help balance and temper the dangerous side of this complete absorption into Now. Trasnú often became so completely enveloped in the emotions that came with each sensual experience that they began to crash out of him and onto his surroundings. All he touched had started to shatter in his hands when he became angry and every face turned towards him when he was radiant with joy at the light on the edge of the forest.


As Tacaigh Le scans for the sound of his voice, Trasnú is floating up to the sand at the edge of the river’s last bend before it plunges over the waterfall to free itself from everything it does not need to take with it into the valley below. The memory of his clothes lives only with Tacaigh Le. The sun beats down on his pale skin. Tomorrow it will be red and blistered, but now he is not yet in that moment. He is full of the joy of water and sky.

 

Soon his right buttock and left shoulder blade feel the scrape of small stones and sand as he is pushes against the edge of the bar at the side of the bend. The river has left him here instead of taking him over the falls. It is a gift that he does not recognize because he has never been to this place before. As he realizes he has stopped moving, Trasnú hears a call to leave the water and go up onto the sand. If someone had asked Trasnú, he would have told them he just felt like filling his hands with sand. If someone had asked Tacaigh Le, they would have been told a different story.

 

Now Trasnú’s hands are searching for what lies in the sand. They dig here and there in the wet, sloppy muck that smells slightly of moss and decomposition. Most of his lower body is muddy beyond belief. His fingers grasp and scoop away more and more from the river bank handful by handful in a wild attempt to reveal what he is certain he will find below. He doesn’t know what it is exactly, only that he must reach it and pull it out so that he can look at it.


He is scooping damp silt out around his waist and onto the strand behind him. After each small portion is removed, the river bank gently slides back into place and does not give up its grasp. Again the boy Trasnú rakes at the earth with his fingers, and again it slides easily back into place. This goes on and on and he does not tire or lose his purpose. His focus is so great that he does not feel that he is in fact making no progress in the apparent world. The object stays hidden and he stays dirty. To an outside observer, nothing else changes. To Trasnú, he is moving towards the shinning thing that he wishes to free from the mud.


Tacaigh Le looks out across the dense blanket of fog in the valley towards a hill that rises from the mists out near the Eastern horizon. As he does this, a whorl of blue that was cut into his upper arm many centuries ago begins to throb. The pain distracts him as he reaches up to cradle the arm at the elbow where it is hurting him. It has been so long since those times became these times and he felt them as present. He is surprised.

 

Then the stabbing ache disappears. He looks down, only to be hit with a more intense blow in the center of the old spiral from the time where the assassins raised their long knives and a man in a bloody shirt died screaming his brother’s name. Six hundred years ago is briefly Now for him. Again and again the memories stab into his body, just as the daggers did to the man falling to the floor so many years before. The pain is as present and as terrifying as it was then, before the swell of time put all things in their places. Tacaigh Le is not used to this and nearly falls backwards into the great river as she readies herself to carry him out of this life and into chaos and confusion. She is always there should he ever fall before his time. He knows that this is far worse than the death he is feeling for the second time and he resists. he pushes down into the soles of his feet and remains standing.


On the shore of the sand bar Trasnú dives again and again into the secretive mire that will not share the past with him. Each time he feels something below and each time he draws out fistfuls of earth, only to see the cavity he has excavated reclaimed with ease. He does not see the passing of the sun overhead as day becomes night. He does not notice as the transits of sun and moon weave their circles together into a thread of months that connect into a fabric of seasons which forms a heavy blanket of years over the spot where he is digging. The river moves on and forms a new bend and the place where he dug is left to become meadow. In his time out of time the sand bar does not yield, so time himself must allow passage to one so determined. Trasnú has excavated himself through Now into a place where there is only action and intent. His strong and supple body grows slowly into the knotted muscle of well-worn manhood as he burrows into the past and into his own future.


None of this is seen or known by Trasnú. He sees only the possibility beneath the soil. Many figures are now watching him dig. They would be known to The Giant, but not to Trasnú. Some sit on the dead tree behind him, some watch from the forest at the other side of the sandbank, and some rise occasionally from the water’s edge. They all know him even though he does not return their awareness. Yet it is their kind words, rousing songs, good food and satisfying drink that sustain him on his unwitting journey. It is their fire that warms him on cold nights and their hands that defend him against all dangers here at the edge of the water. They reach out from their worlds into the place where he is digging a hole because they support what will happen when he finishes. Or they love him from beyond the veil because they are what came before him. Or because of reasons a human cannot fathom.


Tacaigh Le grows used to the pain in his arm. As he regains his balance, he begins to know that the time is soon to arrive when he will meet his charge face to face for the first time. Trasnú has believed that he was living alone and that his sustenance came directly from the land around him. He thought he was the one who took what was needed to sustain him, based solely on his own skills. Now Tacaigh Le is walking to the place where a new story will be told or made.

 

It was always Tacaigh Le who led Trasnú to the fruit and the berries or the honey in the tree by means so subtle they could not be perceived by one so young. And it was he who asked the animals who would lay down her life or offer up his body so that Trasnú might eat.


As he thrusts his increasingly strong arms ever deeper into the bank of the luxurious river, Trasnú’s face grows a man’s beard and his head is wreathed with a crown of wild strands of hair. His frame grows longer and his shoulders broaden. At last he draws all his strength to him and forces his entire torso into the earth before him. He dives so deep that his breath is leaving him. A figure appears beside him made of the blackness that is underneath the places where light never shines. The figure who is not and was never a man watches without eyes and waits calmly. he shimmers with his own dark interior light source. A boat the same color as the figure is waiting somewhere, just out of sight. Only a few more seconds and the air in Trasnú’s lungs will be used up. A place on the bat awaits him once those seconds are in the past.

 

Trasnú’s right hand grasps the hilt of an ancient sword buried deep in the mud. With the thrill of a discovery long awaited, he wrenches the blade from the earth’s grasp and surges upwards to lie gasping on the sand. There is no sound but the water and the heaving of his breath. All others are silent, watching what he will do next. The boat departs, and Trasnú’s place on it remains unoccupied. The shimmering dark figure turns quietly and disappears from sight.


After his breath returns to normal, Trasnú stands to admire his hard-won prize for which he has unknowingly given all of the days a boy must pass through while he becomes a man. In the special stillness that can only come from a goal of years suddenly attained, he moves to his knees. Then he places one foot firmly on the ground and begins to stand. His right hand holds the sword and raises the blade into the light of the morning sun as he places his other foot on the ground and stands for the first time in this age.


Tacaigh Le’s great strides rapidly cover the ground as Trasnú’s breath is fading when he dives into the earth. He reaches the base of the hill as Trasnú the man stands and holds up his prize. From a cave, his great hands bring out a cauldron of surpassing workmanship that shines in the light of the sun for the first time since the stones at the top of the hill were last called to by mortals. Tacaigh Le carries the cauldron to the top of the hill where a huge raven sits in the branches of a hawthorne tree that casts its shadow across the edge of a stone circle on the hill’s crest. He nods to the bird in recognition and a dark eye looks back in solemn greeting. The weight of the raven’s body bows the branch he occupies as his rattling voice rings out in the stillness. Three calls ring out in quick succession. On the third call, fire leaps up from the stone at the center of the circle. Tacaigh Le smiles and sets the three-legged cauldron over the flames. Into it he places the beginnings of a meal. Then he sits down near the raven’s perch. It has been a long time since these two have worked together. They sit in silence awaiting the next visitor to this sacred ring.


Back on the riverbank outside of time, Trasnú’s world breaks into pieces the instant both his feet are once again on the sand at the edge of the water. His senses blur and the shapes of another place and another time crowd in forcefully through the cracks left by the shattering of Now. Tables with mosaic tops swim into place in front of him as he stumbles through unfamiliar rooms that he nevertheless recognizes perfectly. One foot falls on the soft sand by the river. The other strikes sun-baked stone and clay as a dead sculptor’s jovial voice booms into his ears on a bright day in a time that is six centuries under the earth. The enticing flesh of naked and willing partners shimmers in ancient candle-flames where the dead log opens in the center and dissolves as he tries to grasp it. Odd details such as the exact feel of a few strands of someone’s hair or the precise smells of a certain bouquet or the worn edge of a particular doorway suddenly take the place of whatever had been in the forefront of his perception the moment before. He struggles to move at all and feels the powerful vertigo of a great pressure upon his soul and over his body. It is as if he is being simultaneously expanded and compressed. His senses do not know how to process any of this, and unconsciousness looms powerfully over him. The only things that keeps him from accepting the gift of oblivion is that he does not know which time or place his body will fall into. He is kept awake by the certain feeling that wherever he lands, it would not truly be the end. It would only be the beginning of something much worse than this.


He reaches out to a jewelled goblet of wine as it sits upon a heavy wooden table in a hall lit by a fire in a towering hearth. His hand returns to his mouth with a rough gourd filled with river water left out too long. At the beginning of the gesture his limb and hand is strong and dark with the manicured power of nobility. As he spits the filthy sludge from his mouth out onto the sand, it is thin and white with caked mud and dirty, ragged nails.


He staggers forwards and begins to run clumsily after so much time spent digging on all fours. He must get away from the pressure without and within before it claims him. A toe-ring on a foot stepping daintily across polished pebbles appears suddenly where his own feet should be. He tries to twist away from the next step in that place, only to sprawl across the floor in a dimly lit room where bodies writhe in the smells of sex and wine. His vision goes dark and misty and he falls through the woman beneath him, only to smash his head into the upraised arms of a statue holding out hands in blessing above a long table of feasting. His feet stumble against dark rocks at the edge of a harbor, only to land suddenly on the roots hanging out of the riverbank at the back of the sandbar he is trying to climb. His hands tear at the bark of the trees above in excitement that he is back in this moment, only to find his fingers curling deep into the rich tresses of the woman from the darkened room spread out before him once more. He knows everything about her body, yet nothing of her story. Part of the bed and one of her legs suddenly dissolve and he is clutching the leaves of a shrub somewhere in the undergrowth.

 

Times and places overlap like phantasms of dark rainbows trapped inside clouds long gone but still seen. He touches true and complete madness as he runs through all of them and none of them in the same instant. The sound of a bow saw cutting stone for inlay work and the close air of a medieval workshop follow him through what seems like years, then suddenly vanish. He sees fragments of a view outside a cloister window dancing behind the branches of trees in the forest at the top of the bank above the sandbar where he found the sword. His legs are running down a narrow path in a cold Northern forest while his body is sweating from the heat of an Italian summer as it sits and stares at the sea. None of it makes any sense and all he knows is that he needs to keep running. As long as his feet stay in motion, he will be able to make it back to one place and one time.


Trasnú arrives at the foot of the hill a dirty and torn being with wild, reddened eyes and no conscious idea where or when he is. The sword is held aloft in his shaking arm and he screams out the nonsense of a soul forced unwillingly backwards into its own past. His feet begin to walk the dirt path upwards towards the stones. Some footfalls raise dust in the light of the falling sun and some echo through stone corridors filled with richly dressed courtiers that once surrounded a pair of rulers long deceased. Some of his steps climb the stairs to the second floor of a great cathedral and some lift his feet up the steeper reaches just below the standing stones at the top of the hill where Tacaigh Le and the raven sit in silence. Trasnú reaches the grass at the top and turns into the gallery at the head of the stairs. Men burst from the crowd and draw their knives. The blades catch the light coming from the windows high above. A faint mist formed by a tree, a stone, and a raven sitting above a very large man hangs in the air as the blades plunge into his body again and again from two sides. It is all like a dance in a dream that is so terribly real. Trasnú catches even the smallest vibration of intent held out by each participant, including the man who is and is not him at the top of the stairs in the cathedral. The knives flash their deadly arcs again and again until the sounds of the surprised crowd are overcut by the echoing cry of the dying man’s brother’s voice and the breaking heart behind the cry that gives it the power to cross so many centuries. The voice of the man who is not Trasnú’s brother screams out his name that is not his name while he falls to the floor and his life flows out of him onto the marble at everyone’s feet.


All becomes darkness and sounds he does not understand until suddenly Trasnú is lying on a stone looking up into the huge face of a man so big his very existence seems questionable. The great eyes quietly return his terrified gaze as the memories of the journey and the death swirl around him too fast to settle. Trasnú’s hand grips the bronze of the sword and his back feels the cold stone below him. Tacaigh Le simply waits and watches. The raven seems to be completely uninterested, but Trasnú has lived in the wild places long enough to know his eyes are a delicacy to the raven, who has time to wait.


A man of short stature and strong build walks from the shadows beyond the fire carrying a golden bowl. As he nears, his eyes carry the light of time and the fire of wisdom. They are sharp and blue-grey with more depth than is normal. He wears his hair long, with a large moustache, a pointed goatee, and a conical hat that looks to be made of felt. His heavy robes are covered with rich designs that mirror the markings on the Giant’s skin. The surface of the liquid in the golden vessel he carries reflects a silver gleam and its edges are covered with the same spiraling patterns that adorn his garments. As he steps towards Trasnú his eyes flash equal parts solemnity and mirth. This combination in this place seems deeply unsettling and perfectly correct.

 

The man dips his hand gently into the water in the bowl and places one moistened fore-finger against Trasnú’s temple as he lies on the stone. He does the same for the center of his chest, then continues on with slow and perfectly fluid motions until all 12 doorways of the soul have been anointed. Trasnú has a vague idea that something very important is happening. Each tiny pool of salty water on his body shines in the light of the fire and reflects the entire scene. After the twelfth doorway is blessed by the Druid’s touch, it is well into the night. The moon has set and only the fire brings light to the scene.


As the tiny droplets start to dry on his skin and lose their ability to reflect the fire, Trasnú feels a moment coming. It is a moment where he will need to make a choice that will have long-reaching impact on his own future. As he dug in the mud, it was not only the sword he found. He also dug up the ability to understand that there are moments outside of this one. Now, for the first time in his life, he can see the time of choice for what it is.

 

Trasnú holds the choice in his mind for an instant. It feels strange, but he is sure of it. Then he lets the sword fall out of his hand. It begins to sink into the soil of the hill without a sound. The earth is pierced by its tip and the brilliance of its gracefully curved leaf of a blade vanishes. The strong rivets where the tang meets the hilt slide away. The curving wraps of worked designs at the pommel go beneath the earth and it is no longer visible. The shinning beauty he gave his adolescence to acquire leaves his grasp for good.

 

The distance the sword has travelled from the mud of the riverbank to the thin loam of the hilltop is so short in standard human terms. Only an hour’s walk at the most. Yet it is so incredibly long when looked at by the means those who helped him obtain it use to map these things. They are all present in silence as Trasnú makes his choice and lets the blade return to the earth. By the same sort of measures, the changes wrought by this journey will be as great as the distance the sword has traveled. Once he releases the finely wrought bronze he worked so hard to touch, Trasnú feels rested and awake. His body and awareness are only in one time, only in one place. His voice can calmly speak, though he chooses not to at this moment. Words are simply not needed.

 

He climbs down from the stone and walks to the edge of the fire, where he takes a seat next to Tacaigh Le. The Druid walks back towards the shadows with his golden bowl held in both his hands. At the edge of the light he pauses and pours the remaining water onto the ground. Then he walks over the damp earth and disappears into the night. Trasnú watches him go. There is a smile on both fo their faces, though neither can see the other’s.


After regarding the fire and eating the soup the giant cooked in the cauldron while he was waiting, Tacaigh Le and Trasnú lie down by the embers of the fire and dream together. The raven cries out and takes flight into the morning light as the sun rises. The Giant awakes first and watches Trasnú as he opens his eyes to the first day where he is to travel into the light of the rising sun with the full weight and complete joy of knowing how much he has yet to learn.

 

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