The Games of Macha

A seanachie in brightly colored robes held a crowd of revelers in thrall, “Emain Macha is our home and the seat of our power,” chanted the seanachie motioning to the hill fort above the festival grounds, “Long ago and far away she walked among men and indeed was married to a thoughtless one,” women among the listening crowd nodded their understanding. 

The crowd calmed and the storyteller continued, “Foolishly, the king of that older Ulster, forced Macha to run a race against his finest horse, for the boast of her husband, she ran.  For her pride she won, for her pain, with child was she, she cursed that king and his men, and for the foolishness of a husband Macha, torn within, bereft of child, pale white and drained of blood, she died . . .”

It was the yearly funeral games of Macha, and a feis, and a fair were ever a part of it.  The law was read out, the genealogy of the king was recited, there were stories told by the bards, dancing, tasty treats, good cheer.

CuRuada would not be waylaid, there were things to buy of wonderful craftsmanship and art.  For this reason CuRuada had come to the fair.  He sought something that would please Emer.

Earlier CuRuada had won praise for his battle feats.  He had won the spear caste outright with no rival.  Perhaps  most gratifying for himself, he had lead the boys troop to the victory in hurling.  Though the boys troop won almost every year, there had been cheers on every side for his amazing skill. 

From all this glory had come a few purses, money, and there had been no question in CuRuada’s mind what he would do with his winnings.  Somewhere among the glittering trifles and baubles was a gift worthy of the woman he loved.

But he despaired, he had been looking diligently for more than an hour and though there were many many beautiful things nothing he saw was a fit gift for Emer. 

So it was that Cu stopped his searching and watched a smith at his work.  This fellow was different than others, he was short and squat and his hair and beard were black like many a Lokian of the mountains, but what set him apart for CuRuada was his exceptional skill.  And there, as the fellow fit the pieces of an ornate brooch together from several seeming unassociated parts, CuRuada saw through the magic of it and he gasped. 

At once the smith looked at him with piercing blue eyes a knowing smile on his face, “So young sir, what have you seen?”  The voice seemed absurdly deep from a fellow so short, so small.

“I perceive that your work is fine . . .”

“None finer, but what did you SEE,” The smith’s eyes bore into CuRuada’s.

“I saw,” CuRuada struggled to put words to what he had just seen, “That what looks like magic, how the parts fit together as one, is craft.” The dark man nodded but wanted more. Cu continued, “You use no rivet or clasp because each part is rivet and clasp that holds one to another not by magic, but by your craft.”

“Even so,” said the short smith, turning away and rubbing at the assembled brooch.  Without looking up the smith said, “I recognize my work on you.  That brooch you wear I made for King Concubar.

Cu nodded, “Even so, it was given to my mother by the king and by my mother to me.”  The boy saw that the smith looked at him again and would have had more from him, but he could think of nothing else to say.

The smith pondered a moment, shrugged, and casually tossed the beautiful piece on his work bench, “So you’ve come to spy out my secrets, is that it, boy?”  His words were challenging, but there was a twinkle in the man’s eye and CuRuada warmed to him.

“Not so, I’m no smith, it is for a gift that I’ve come seeking.  You have the best of the best,” At this the boy sighed, “and yet I’ve found nothing yet fit for Emer.” 

The little smith tugged at his beard, “No, it is true, you are no smith, but what you are is difficult to say as well.” Again CuRuada began to feel uncomfortable under the smith’s intense gaze. The dark man spoke as if his words were a magic incantation, “I saw you at hurley and the fine work you did with the spear.  No smith surely, but no common warrior either are you.  You wear a broch made for a king, a prince you must be.  Or a god.”  Cu blushed, the dark man smiled.

He turned away and ducked down beneath his work bench, “And a fine judge of craftsmanship too . . .” The little man brought out an ornately carved wooden box and with a flourish drew open the cover.

Within was a brooch of surpassing beauty, a true masterwork of the Lokian’s craft.  Golden jewel studded and enameled it was, but so much more. For the second time CuRuada gasped, the beautiful spiralings and clever twinings drew the eye deeper and deeper into details smaller and finer.

“You might not be a smith, but you know,”  The dark man drew out the brooch and showed Cu the elegant eating knife with a hilt that matched the brooch without being a copy, in fact, as the smith drew them together CuRuada could see that the one was nothing like the other and yet it was its perfect mate, like a duet in jewels, and for the third time the boy gasped.

“beautiful . . .” he breathed reverently.

“Will the gift outshine the gifted?” The Lokian smith asked.

CuRuada blinked stupidly, stunned until he realized that the smith was speaking of Emer.   He thought of her and imagined the brooch glittering at her long white throat and how it would look against her hair and the poniard in her elegant hand.  “No sir,” said Cu with conviction, “She is the only one who could complete them.”

Nodding, the smith handed the little box to him with a mysterious smile, “And so they shall.”