The Consumption Vision of Cathbad

The giant cauldron hung above a fire that had settled back to a sullen red glow.  Cathbad sat staring into the embers, deep in thought or devoid of it, while his druid assistants tended the cauldron, chanted, or fidgeted nervously.  Few enough of the small-folk remained, but when word of war had filtered out with those that had left, the men who would fight it began to gather to hear the words of the chief druid.

CuRuada had been seeking Emer at the fair, but he could not find her.  Indeed, Emer and her father had left for the ford of the Red where they lived.  CuRuada’s fellows brought him the exciting word of war predicted by the druid, Cathbad.  With them, Cu gathered near the chanting druids and the blackened cauldron with the other warriors, though the boys of the troop hung together.

CuRuada saw his destiny plain.  He must take up arms today.  As in other things he must excel to claim his bride.  CuRuada knew that the ceremony where young men took up their arms was normally held after the yearly sacrifice and druid divination.  Waiting was torment.  His friends in the boys troop were eager to be men, but Cu needed to be one.  Emer was reason enough and more.

CuRuada opened the carved box and stared at the broach and the knife.  When I take up arms there is no one who can keep me from you Emer.

Murmurs among the assembled men brought CuRuada out of his reverie.  Druids were bringing boiled meat out of the cauldron with meat hooks.  Some of it had already been spread out to cool and Cathbad was methodically eating what was placed before him.  This then was the beginning of the Consumption Vision.  Cathbad would eat all the bullock and after that there would be a vision of great power.

But a man eating can hold attention only so long, for the boys troop less than most.  Their whispered conversation was frowned on by the warriors around about them for awhile, but soon enough the process of Cathbad eating the bull could not hold even grizzled old warriors attention and they joined the boys in murmured conversation.

“I shall take up arms today, if the druid will ever finish his meal,” boasted Conor, a boy of the troop.

“Best think twice Conor, this of war is no business for mere boys,” said Conall, the champion’s son.

“I suppose a shan’t be able to with my arm as it is,” pouted Felmid.

“HAH!” scoffed Conor, “I’d not worry about my arm if I were you.  Better that you grow a couple more years before you think of it, Felmid.”

Felmid shouldered Conor with his good arm, “What do you know, you’re only three months older.”

“Hush now, have you no respect?” said Conall, “Think twice before you take up arms.  There are two ends to a spear.  Make sure you can stay on the right end of it.”

“I will take up arms today,” stated CuRuada flatly.  The druid was still eating, but CuRuada had no more stomach for this show, “Come get me when it is time to take up my arms.”  Without another word he walked off toward where people were gathering their things to depart.  CuRuada went first to where the Lokian smith had been and finding his booth gone went looking for him among the carts and wains of the people leaving the fair grounds.

“That is an odd fellow,” Remarked Conor.

“. . . Said the boy with more freckles than face,” Felmid laughed, but yowled when Conor thumped him on his broken arm.

“Hush you,” whispered Conall, and the boys all fell silent, “Have you no respect?”  Conall pointed to the diaz where Cathbad was finishing his meal.

Cathbad took from an assistant a huge bowl of broth mingled with blood and slowly began to drink.  His helpers hovered near as the great druid finished the last of the bull.  Cathbad dropped the bowl and held his arms out.

There was sudden noise of chanting and drumming the cauldron was drawn off the fire and fragrant incense was cast on the coals.  Others of the druids waved censers about spreading still more fragrant smoke.  In the midst of it all Cathbad sat with his arms held out. 

Then an elder druid came toward Cathbad struggling under the weight of the bullocks hide he bore, eight others carried a platform of sorts with handles where the druids held it up.  The elder shook out the bloody hide and with the help of some of the younger assistants wrapped Cathbad, already red with the blood of the sacrifice, in the bloody skin of the sacrifice.

The eight druids with the elder lifted Cathbad onto the platform which the they then lifted onto their shoulders with Cathbad, entranced, upon it.  The general noise died to silence as the elder druid took up a censer and began to chant.  He led the bearers down off the dais and all the druidry who had been helping with the vision quest fell in behind in a sort of procession.  Everyone else stood or sat around the empty dais as the procession moved off, Cathbad above all on the shoulders of the bearers.  The thin voice of the elder druid was joined by the assembly as they slowly walked away.

“What now?” asked Felmid.

Conall and several older warriors around stared at him disapprovingly.  Conor whispered, unabashed, “Cathbad sleeps off his big meal, has his vision, and then we all hear.”

Felmid considered this for a moment before commenting, “Why in the world did we stand here waiting?”

Conor shrugged, Conall frowned, and an elder warrior not far off shushed louder than Felmid’s comment.  Conall muttered under his breath, “have you no respect?”

Meanwhile CuRuada searched for the smith.  He strode along the long line of carts and wagons looking for the short dark Lokian.  When he would have almost stopped he saw the man with his wagon and team.  On seeing him Cu couldn’t imagine what he would say.  The man made up his mind for him when he looked back, and seeing the young warrior, motioned him forward.

When CuRuada walked up beside the wagon the little man called down, “Don’t tell me that you’ve come looking for another gift for yet another lady friend.”  CuRuada’s look of horror made the black-haired metal-worker laugh.  “No?  Well that’s good to hear.  How did your friend like the gift?”

“I don’t know, I couldn’t find her.  Likely left with the rest; left like you.”

“Likely so. . .” said the smith. “So why come see me?”

CuRuada shrugged, “I couldn’t stand waiting for the chief druid’s vision quest.  It’s a hard thing to watch a man eat and eat.  Afterward is the ceremony where boys take up their arms and become men.  I need to take up arms today.”

“The only good reason to wait that I can see is so you don’t miss something you have to have.”

“That is good advice.  Now I owe you twice over, how shall I repay you?”

The dark Lokian laughed, “There’s no need.”  He thought for a moment and then leaned out of his wagon looking Cu directly in the eyes, “But some day you and your friend could come see me.  I’d like to see that brooch completed.” His blue eyes danced with mischief before he added, “My name be Goffanon the smith.  Beyond the Red Branch and up in the hills the folk know my name and the paths to my forge.  Seek me when you would find me.”

CuRuada waved, “I will come Goffanon, so says CuRuada.”

With that he rein whipped his team to better speed to close up the gap between his wagon and the next in line.  He shouted back at Cu, “Don’t forget to bring that girl of yours too.”

CuRuada turned to walk back along the cart track.  Far back along the way he saw Conor and Felmid walking toward him.  At that he remembered the smith’s advice and began to run toward his fellow boys troop members.

“Hey there Cu!” shouted Conor, “If you plan to take up arms today you best come at once.  Cathbad has eaten and his vision can’t be far off.”

“How long did we stand around while he ate?” asked Felmid, “I’m sure it can’t come as soon as we would want.”  Felmid fiddled with his splinted arm, “Not that I’ll be taking up arms.”

“I must,” stated CuRuada flatly striding toward the diaz where he had watched the druid’s divination sacrifice.

Conor and Felmid were hard pressed to keep up with him. “Hey now, hair on fire,” Conor jibbed, Felmid laughed at that encouraging him, “What’s all the hurry for?  Cathbad has predicted war and death, of course the king isn’t too worried about that.  Kings don’t do the dying.”

Felmid broke into a jog that had him clutching his splinted arm in one way and another until he found a comfortable way to hold it.  “Yeah, at least hear what Cathbad’s Consumption Vision has to say. . .”

“It matters not.  I will take up my arms today.”

Conor and Felmid shrugged at each other and fell in behind CuRuada as he strode toward the crowd of men awaiting the Chief Druid’s vision.  As the three of them approached, there was a flurry of activity and the elder druid walked up the stairs and onto the dais followed by an entourage of younger druids.

This fellow was not so theatrical, for as soon as his following entourage took up their places around him he began to read from a wand scratched with runes.  “This is the vision of Cathbad, hear and know the future if you can understand it.” The old man’s voice boomed out over the audience, “Indeed there will be war.  This will waste the good foaling and the fine fishing and what should be blessed will be bitter.  Many will die both in fighting and for greed and for cursing that comes of war.”  The druid spoke derisively, looking down his nose at the king, “All this but reinforces what Cathbad saw from the liver and the entrails.” 

“It was the chief druid’s choice, get on with it.” said Concubar.

The old turned his eyes to where the young men gathered, “Only this word remains, this for the young, this warning before war.  The first to take up arms today will gain fame at the cost of his life, will be showered with glory, remembered forever for his deeds.  Wait you!  Know that glorious is his life, but short.  This Cathbad saw, great his deeds but so soon his death.  This was Cathbad’s seeing and we know that it is true.

Good to have a famous name, but to die young was a bitter thing.  The older of the boys troop hesitated.  Even Conall considered. 

Single-minded, CuRuada pushed through his fellows, “I will take up my arms today.  Better to be remembered than to die in a bed.”  Hearing this Concubar was proud because CuRuada was his son though he did not make it generally known.

The elder druid turned away and to his fellows he said, “This too was Cathbad’s seeing and we see it is true.”

I am forced by the format of this Blog to name the post as I begin writing.  Often it does not go as I anticipate and I want to end a post before the story really warrants it, or the story turns and the title does not reflect well the content.  In this case there are a number of things happening that occur before or during Cathbad’s vision (which we don’t actually see) and so this title seems a bit forced as does the ending and the vision.  This last for reason of wanting to wrap up a post while still offering the information promised in the title.  Hopefully I can improve the uneveness if/when I rewrite this tale.