The Ransom of Bres

Eochu Bres, son of Fire, Bres the Beautiful, son of Elatha, sat with his back to a stone, his sword at his feet. The Fomoire were fleeing, running back to the sea. There would be no rulership again for him in this land that he loved and he wanted no other.

It had always been the land, for him, and he had ruled with a deep love of the soil and field and fruiting bush. It had not been in his heart to rule the people, to be a sovereign to them and concern himself with feasts and judgment. He was a fine warrior, but did not love war and felt no awe of those who did. He loved the poetry of sun on the soil and wind in the wheat too much to care for the ranting of poets.

He had lost his wife—had left her to seek his father and she had returned to hers. Their son had come to him—and his father’s people had convinced the boy to spy on Bríg’s people and he had died a spy before he was old enough to bear a spear and shield. And he, Eochu Bres, would die for trying to take back what he had lost. Let his blood feed the land he loved so well—he head no heart for more fighting.

It was the youth who had defeated Old Balor who found him there, contemplating his losses. Samildánach, they called him, and Lamfada, but he looked only a little older than his Ruadan, dead in Goibniu’s forge, slim and tall and a face that looked like it one easy to smile, the hair golden to Ruadan’s red. Would Bríg’s people be glad to hear of his death? Would the boy boast of it at the feast later?

“You do not reach for your sword,” said Lug.

“No, I do not choose to fight,” Bres answered.

“Will you ransom yourself then?”

Bres looked into the glas-blue eyes, his own widening in surprise. “You would take my ransom rather than my head?”

“If you will offer one I may accept, I will.”

Bres thought of what he had to offer. His wealth had been the wealth of the Tuath Déa’s ruler. He had no family who would own him but his father, Elatha, if that good man were not dead on the field. He touched the warm soil beneath him, and knew that all he had was his love of this place and the blessing of his hand.

“If I am spared, the cows of this land will always be in milk,” he said. His mother’s people loved milk above all things, and his blessing could make it so, even though he were not king.

The youth looked at him, considering. “I do not think that is a thing anyone can do,” he said, “and if you could, it would be unkind to do it. Is there anything else you can offer?”
Bres nodded to himself. He had his mother’s gift of the soil and its growing things. “If I am spared, your people will reap a harvest every quarter.”

Lug paused, then shook his head. “Each harvest is a sorrow to the earth. I would not have that sorrow multiplied. That will not save you.” He frowned. “Less will save you, cousin.”

“What?” If it was not milk or harvest to feed them and their people, what could he offer?

“Tell me,” said Lug, “how shall we plow? And how shall we sow? And how shall we reap? You know the land and it’s husbandry, tell these things, and you will be saved.”

Bres shook his head and smiled. This young champion understood and made him understand what had never been clear before. The best things were a balance, not an abundance beyond reckoning. And he told Lug the secrets of plowing and sowing and reaping, the secrets he had learned in loving the land, and so Bres was saved.

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