Lys: Time of Darkness

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The ceremony depicted here is entirely fictional, drawn more from the general traditions of Celtic bards and druids than any actual ceremonies and rites. Consider it to be something peculiar to Aithne's clan.

Aithne was, frankly, relieved to see that no one had followed. They were close enough, though, for the general bustle of the villa-yard to be within hearing. She felt trepidation- it was supposed to be a community gathering, sure, but a gathering of people standing in respect, knowing the man and the rites, not people oggling as they passed...

Cathair's hand at her back was reassuring. The knife he handed her, though, struck dread in her heart. But she set her teeth and took it, simultaneously tightening her grip on the harp- firmly pressed against her shoulder and immobile. With vicious strokes she deliberately cut each string. The sound it made was like the scream of a ghost- a banshee's wail- the sound that pierced one's heart or else turned it to water.

But she bore it, though it felt to her as though, for the moment, she was her father's murderer. The sound had caught some attention, she noticed, but there was no more turning back. Tears coming fast, heart burst afresh, she spread her hands, showing the blade and the broken harp, and cried out-

"Woe, woe, woe!
Weep and mourn, all you who hear,
Weep for the Clan with no Voice!
The harp is broken, the song fades.

Who will remember the times past?
Who can recount them to us?
Our past lies forgotten; there is no one to sing of our deeds.

Where is he that kept our law? He that upheld us in war?
The knowledge of the world is lost to us.
We are like blind men, being led about

Weep, cry out, oh voiceless clan!
How can your silent cries be unheard?
The future lies unseen and unsearched. We are a people adrift!

Behold, the harp lies silent, broken, untouched.
The soul of the clan has fled, and we are lost!
Dubhan... the Bard is... dead..."

Her voice broke as she said it. The full weight of her father's death fell on her and she almost fell to her knees. Cathair reached out to steady her, but she motioned him back. She would finish if it killed her. Drawing herself up, she called out the traditional ending of the lament.

"…Who will take up the harp?
Does the Soul of the People still live?
Bring him forth!
Or else we continue in darkness…"

She looked around. Obviously, her father's successor would not be here. He would have been named at home- from among the clan. Cathair, as the only other clan member, stepped forward.

"Aithne DerDubhan takes up the harp. The Soul of the People still lives."

Her knees almost went out again. She was not the bard. She could not be the bard. Her father would not leave the clan without a bard for so long. Not for a minute longer than necessary. "Cathair..." But he gave her a warning look. Finish the ceremony. So she lifted her chin and answered him. "The Soul of the People lives. Our time of darkness is ending." Handing him his knife, she wrapped the harp within her cloak. It would remain covered until she could make or aquire new strings for it. Once that happened, and it was played again, the "Soul of the People" would be considered no longer silent. Slowly, she was recovering from her tears. It would be awhile before it all settled in...

Cathair took her hand and helped her down from her steep perch. Once they reached level ground, she turned to face him. "Tell me, Cathair. Tell me who is the bard. My father would not and could not have named me."

"Cynan DeOsin serves the clan now." he said, matter-of-factly. "But your father sent you these things because, if circumstances had been different, he would've chosen you."

Aithne nodded. "Cynan was a good choice. He was a better pupil than I, by far. They call me a bard here. I suppose I am more of a bard than most." She gave him a wry smile and told him what she had thought about on the way to the hill. He nodded at her. "You certainly are a bard. I have no idea what you just said."

At that, she laughed. Those words were almost exactly what she used to hear her mother say to her father. And to herself, on occasion. Taking her hand, he led her back to the villa. They returned to a scene much like the one they had left- it was as if nothing had happened- save that it was much darker now and the fire and lamps were brighter.

Cathair maneuvered her over to the hearth, motioning her close. "Come here." he said. "I have something for you." He reached into his pouch, and Aithne, setting aside the harp and cloak, drew very close, curiousity driving her. Holding out his hand, and taking hers, he dropped the contents of one into the other, smiling as he did so. "There. The dark days will not be so long."

She looked down, and there, in her hand, sat the harpstrings she was wanting! With a gasp of delight, she flung her arms around Cathair's neck, kissing his jaw as she did. "Oh, you're wonderful, Cathair! Only you would think of that..."

He smiled mischeviously and pulled back. "Well, are you going to put them in, or not?" Blushing, she sat down and uncovered the harp. She hadn't strung a harp for ages, but her hands did not forget their skill. She tied, twisted, and played each string, tuning it to the proper pitch. Soon, she was completely lost in the work and had forgotten anything else in the room.

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