Telling Tales 63
I am Scrobarnach Armtha.
Of course you’ve never heard a name like that, I made it up. You can call me Tor, if you like.
My family stayed in this land after my mother and her husband returned to the West. Fergus promised them safe passage, and safe passage Fergus gave, but a bonded man is only as good as his own word, not his king’s. Fergus was sent away and my grandparents did not survive. My mother kept us here and taught us the ways of the lance and sword and horse and hoof. We, my siblings and I, have all gone our separate ways, and if you’ll take me along I’ll seek my good fortune where your mighty ship lands.
I have been to the West and it holds no more love for me. I have done my violence and had my vengeance and besides, all of the heroes are dead. If I am to find new foes and new companions worthy of my skills, they will be elsewhere.
My godmother Aife taught me the spear and the lance and what you see before you is tipped with a crane’s beak, sharp enough to pierce three dancers mid-step and quick enough to take the gleam out of a fish’s eye. She gave me these eighteen branches, one for each letter of the alphabet, and because of them I can speak in any language at any time to any people.
You don’t have to say it, I know, my accent’s not perfect but it’s a good trick all the same, now, isn’t it?
It was when I was in the West that my godmother Macha showed me what else I can do with my branches. Would you like to see?
I keep the one that flowers, that stays with me always, and no, you can’t touch it. I scatter the other seventeen like so…
And you see the wood bubble and boil like sheep’s blood over a fire. Watch them, now. The first thing you’ll see are the sword tips bursting from the edge of the bark. Over there, you might think that looks like an eye and you’d be right, but it’s neither the eye nor the kind of eye that you’re thinking of. Now you see them grow. These are my favorite, where the fingers clutch their way out of the wood and drag the body out behind. But these over here, where the legs and feet come first and the sticks are walking around to their own sweet air, I hold them dear, too. And these, the ones that start with the heads, well, cover your ears if you’re tender about words because these mouths know no end of curses to keep themselves busy.
Sure and look at them now, nearly full grown soldiers, each to a one, more branches sticking out where their hair and beards ought to be. And I give them the command, each of these soldiers make seventeen soldiers more, and each of those, another seventeen. They’ve the speed of wolves and the strength of bulls and their swords are crows’ beaks and that’s why I took the name Scrobarnach Armtha, because I command the Brushwood Army and none shall ever defeat me. Also, I think it sounds scary.
No, it’s just me and my lance and my branches and this funny thing I found, looks like a piece of rusted metal. Or bloody metal. If I could, I’d pierce a hole through it and wear it as a necklace, but it’s too strong.
When do we leave?