The Second Fostering

No weeping was heard from the Fir Bolg queen as Cian rode away with his little son behind him, but singing. She sang in the dialect of her people and the boy sand the song back to her, a wild, heart-trembling tune that caught in the ear and made the tongue long to join in. Both voices, high and fine, sounded across the wide plain and even through the woods they passed into, until the travelers stopped for the evening.

At Goibhniu’s forge, the lad was eager and never made complaint for having to learn to raise the fire before shaping metal. He sang to the wood and the flames and made a steady, strong fire as good as Goibhniu himself, and whether making the fire or forging a blade, the sparks never burned him.

When Goibhniu taught him the charms for the hammer and for the metal’s shaping, he set them to tunes, singing them in soft drones like bees as he worked, beating the shapes to the rhythm of the singing, rather than singing to the hammer’s calling.

He did the same with the charms Luchta taught him to see the shapes within the wood, to know where knots would lie and how to work them into the strength of a shape instead of its weakness. Credne’s brazing was also set to song, as he taught the way of shaping the soft metals into coils and curves, how to set the pins that held spear head to haft, how to read the strength of the softer metals and how to blend them for their purpose.

And so it was when Airmed and Miach, his aunt and uncle, came to teach him healing. Airmed would teach him the lists of plants and their ailments, and the lad would recite them back to her in his sweet voice giving them tone and rhythm not in the words. He sang the charms for setting bones and restful sleep for the ill and for drowning out pain as his hands moved gently over the ill bodies of animals and men.

It was his aunt, Etan, who rejoiced in him, for he would learn any lay she gave him on the first hearing, rhythm for rhythm and point for point, and when she questioned him on the meaning, thinking he simply leaned the sound and not the sense, his exposition startled her, for he had heard not only the surface of the story but often the words set sidewise and the judgment of the rhythm on the story’s meaning. He seemed to devour every story she could give him and taught her a few of the Fir Bolg tales. She called him a well of stories, for they seemed to sink into him and fall his depths. It was Etan who was most sorry when Manannán sent for him, for she feared his harper’s fingers would break in the learning of the sword.

The lad went to Emhain Ablach with the mastery of his kinsmens’ arts: smithing. brazing, carpentry, poetry, and healing. From Tailtiu he had learned harping and sorcery. Manannán would add to his store of spells and teach him the arts of war and water.

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