6 - Among the Fianna
The sun was about to set, and Finn was wandering around outside the village, alone with his thoughts - and the golden trees, golden by the dimmed light of dusk.
His warriors started showing signs of impatience, eager to hit the road again but the situation in the village was still very delicate, and Finn suspected that immediate help would be very necessary soon. He did not trust the self-righteousness cunning face of the new village head - did not trust him at all.
Though he was sure he is alone, a low voice suddenly called him.
"Lord Finn "
Finn turned his head around, searching - surprised - to find out who spoke his name. Can someone make it so close to him that he can call him, without the lord of the Fianna hearing him approaching? Odd.
From the shadowy trees beside the path he was walking on, Ayrien appeared. That gal could make an excellent hunter, he thought, still surprised. Pity she's not a lad
"Yes, lady Ayrien?" Only 3 days passed since her father died, but there was no sign on her that she has ever been through such a tragedy - except of the traditional black scarf, of course. He expected to find after-cry swollen eyes, pale or blushed face, shaking hands nothing. Ayrien, he knew from the talking in the village - cried for 2 hours straight after the tragedy, and then got up, cleaned her face and converted all her grief into energy. Moving out from the villager's head house, arranging it for the new coming family, taking care of the death ceremony - all was done in no time. For Danu's sake, she didn't even shed a tear during the burial!
And this very girl was bowing in front of him now, lightly, as nothing had ever happened. Finn could not help feeling deep respect for the brave girl, wishing again she were of the opposite sex
"Lord Finn, I have a request that might sound odd to thee. But I must try and make it anyway."
"Ask, and I'll do my best for any wish of ya, brave lady Ayrien"
Ayrien smiled anxiously, and took a deep breath. "I wish to come along with you", she said quickly, before she can regret.
Finn froze on his place, shocked, and stared at her. What?! Did he hear right?
Ayrien used the sudden break to explain before he has a chance to reject the request.
"I can't stay here. I can't. I dunno if you noticed, but the new high family, they they don't like me. To say the least. And I have no other family here; all my elder brothers went on their own quests. Living here without my father " there was a brief, almost unnoticeable break in her fast speaking, and Finn understood she IS still in pain. He nodded, encouraging her to continue. "And with THEM they'll persecute me. Already begun. And with no family to help 'Twill be hell. Living hell. I can't stay here"
"I see " Finn knew he can not let her come along with them - there was no place for women among the Fianna - but he tried to find a more delicate way to refuse, to let her understand herself why.
"But how will you keep to our pace? We don't ride like villagers are used to"
Ayrien had a ready answer for that. "Ask Tune - I can ride at least as good as he can. And as fast, too"
"And what if we'll fall into battle?"
"If you'll order me, lord, I shall fly from there faster than the wind. And if you allow me, I shall fight by your side. There's not a man in this village who can win a battle against me."
"It is far more dangerous than you imagine--"
"Dangerous?" Ayrien cut in, letting out a short, bitter laugh. "Dangerous is staying here, for me. Dangerous is the fading away of my living sole, depressed and decreased week after week. Dangerous will be my wandering alone in Ireland after I could bare the high family no longer. Life with your Fianna may be dangerous to my body, but I can live with that. Life here is dangerous to me, and will surely cause my death - my sole's death as a start and how can a sole-less body live? Nay, if you wanna keep me away from danger, y'should take me with thee".
Strange fire was burning deep in Ayrien's eyes. It was not the fire of madness in its early beginning, as Finn had expected, but the fire of determination and - yes, of fear. More then the excited speech, that fire made Finn understand that the perils of his ways would be less dangerous for Ayrien - or actually, that that was her deep belief. He, who saw more monsters, robbers and battles than the young woman could possibly imagine, believed it not.
And even if it was true, he could not risk all his warriors in the sake of this lassie's sole! No, he can't bring a woman among the Fianna.
"I can take thee", he said at last, as in an effort, "but only to the closest court, where you can send for yer brothers. We have an oath, never to prevent our help from a female in need, so I ain't living ya here. But only the best warriors, the few ones who passed our tests, can travel with the Fianna longer than that".
With no other word Ayrien bowed and left. Finn, being good hearted as he was, could not look in her eyes after he disillusioned her like that. But if he could, he would have found out that the fire of determination did not diminished from her eyes - on the contrary, it was grown, for an idea had flickered inside it, feeding it
"Mornin', Duive! Wake'up!"
"Ah, go ta hell, ya little and be quite while doin' so! Let-me-sleep!" Duive turned his back to Tune and pulled his blanket over his head, groaning.
" 'T won't help ya t'day, Duive! Finn wants us all out of da inn in 5 minutes. I think we're going, Duive, We're going!".
A groan was the only answer Tune got. But he was not in the mood to give up
"Duive! Duive!" the younger men raised his voice, shaking the grown sleeping figure.
"Only when you get'up"
Some cursing and swearing streamed out of Duive's mouth, but he did get up. It wasn't Tune's fault that he drank far too much last evening, and that he had very little sleep
"Here, here, I'm up. Tune?" rubbing his eyes, Duive wondered if he had not been dreaming - the boy was absolutely not there.
But Finn's shouting was. "Common, you lazy boys! Pack yourselves and get your fat asses over here!". No, he wasn't dreaming a couple of quick moves, and his bag was packed. He hanged it over one shoulder and ran out, to join the line of proud warriors. Apparently, he was the last to join. Finn looked at him seriously, as being angered - but Duive knew him too well to miss that little sparkle of laugh in the leader's eyes, which suggested he knew the reason to his being late
"Tomorrow we're leaving this village" Finn opened with no unnecessary decorations. An unnoticeable sound of relief came from the standing soldiers - Duive was not the only one to celebrate last night, and they were in no shape for the road that very morning. With no reaction to this sound, Finn continued. "We're heading north, as planned, but not directly to Ulster - first we will be escorting--"
Finn, who was walking to and fro while lecturing, saw something very surprising in the gate of the inn's yard - so surprising it cut his sentence. And since very few things could surprise Finn and even fewer could prevent him from speaking, his warriors were very curious to see what the reason was
And they did not have to wait too long.
Duive stuck his elbow in Tune's ribs. "Your girly is here " he giggled.
The girly was definitely there, and could not be missed. Ayrien was dressed in a brown, light hunter suit, a bow and a quiver hanged on her shoulder and a sword scabbard - with a sword in it - on her belt. Duive was not the only one to giggle.
She walked directly toward Finn, completely ignoring the giggling soldiers, and stood proudly in front of him. With one skillful move - that suggested she knows her way very well with swords - Ayrien drew her sword out to the air, letting it glitter in the sun for a mere second, and stuck it in the ground between her and Finn.
Her few ceremonial words were heard very clear, and seemed to be echoed and raised by the inn's stony walls: "I came to be tested."
The shock that hit the Fianna was stronger even than Finn's authority and his commands to be silent, and a murmur was passing through the standing line. "To be tested?" "A girl?" "He won't let her" "Hell never let a girl be tested" "why not?" "not a chance".
One quick glare of Finn, and the company was quite again. It wasn't the first time one of villagers' children came with the same wish: almost every day of their being there an enthusiastic child or youth would appear, carrying his father's sword (which, more than once, was much too heavy for him). Most of them were immediately rejected by Finn from a wide variety of reasons, from too young an age to non-sufficient training. The only one to be tested was still lying wounded in his house when this scene took place. And it wasn't a phenomenon of this village only - the veterans could hardly remember a village where it was not so.
But it was the first time since Finn first gathered the best warriors to the Fianna that a woman had asked to be tested.
And it was the first time that the wise, knowing all Finn didn't know what to say didn't know what to say at all.
One thing he did know: he had to refuse. All his senses, all his experience, his entire warrior's intuition screamed against the mare possibility of testing a female, not to mention the consequences of her passing the tests. Or being hardly injured while being tested But why? He could not explain. Not without thinking. And this girl will argue, very well he knew she would argue. Argue in front of his warriors? Impossible. The master knew the unwritten laws of keeping in command - and high on that list of rules stood "never let your soldiers doubt your authority". Arguing, aseptically with a stubborn girl like this one, is a good way to see your authority leaking between your fingers
He put his hand on the sword, standing tall over young Ayrien, and declared "I take my right to delay my decision. Report to my room when the sun will be trapped in that tree's branches" - he pointed over a great old box-tree that stood just outside the yard's walls - "and you shall know the judgment of the lord of the Fianna."
Ayrien pulled her sword, effortlessly, and presented a warrior's bow to Finn. "I will be there, oh lord of the Fianna." Nobly and lightly she strode out of the yard, no turning nor peeping back, leaving the surprised warlords admiring. Their leader was deep in thoughts, and they were becoming restless - mostly a certain one of them that was more than eager to burst out of there and run after his love
"Dismissed" Finn finally said, noticing the anxiety among his loyal soldiers. They needed their time to talk, gossip and discuss the situation - and so did he, among himself.
In the very second the command was heard, Tune was out of the Inn's gates, looking for Ayrien - but the rebellious young lady could not be seen. Confused, he had looked to all direction - until he heard his name being called from somewhere above him. "psssst Tune! Here!" the whisper came - now he could tell - from the box-tree. And there was his lassie "Ayrien!" he whispered back. "What on earth are you doing there?!".
"I want to hear your friends' opinion 'bout my joining ya, you silly!"
"So get in and ask'em!" The lad was now already right below Ayrien's branch.
"Their TRUE opinion"
Tune was perplexed. And what if any of his friends would see her there?
"Ayrien! Come down here!"
"Why?" She was busier peeping inside the yard than listening to him.
"Well, it's it's dangerous, for starters!"
She laughed silently. "Not good enough excuse for me"
"Yes it is! They would stone you if they catch ya spyin' on them!"
"If you won't be so loud, I won't be caught" But still as she was speaking, Ayrien took one last peep on the warriors inside and jumped lightly off the tree. "But I can't hear a word, anyway" she smiled at Tune.
"You are serious you do wanna join us, don't you?"
"And why not?"
"Well ammm aahhh "
Ayrien nodded her head and approached him, looking straight in his eyes. "Is it because I'm a girl?"
"Well amm Yes I mean--"
"And you think a girl can not become a warrior?"
Tune was hesitating. It was exactly what he thought - but he did not wish to loose his scores at that lovely young lady. And he did not like, either, that look in her eyes .
"Tune, Tune, Tune " Ayrien stepped even closer toward him, placing her hand on his shoulder as if to make a point, explain something - and that is why Tune yelled with surprise when his back hit the dusty ground. Suddenly, he was looking at Ayrien from much a lower position
In one harsh move, Ayrien twisted the hand she was holding and forced him to his stomach, lying on the road with no ability to move. He struggled to get loose, lightly at first - it should not be hard for a warrior like him to shake off a thin girl like her - and then, when he found out it was not quite as easy as he thought, with all his might. Uselessly - she held his hand in such an awkward position that even the slightest move caused unbearable pain.
"Ok, ok, I give'up", he groaned.
"What have you said? I can't hear ya!"
"I GIVE UP!"
Ayrien let him go.
Some laughs and cheers were heard from the yard gate, and the two turned over there - to find most of the Fianna watching. Ayrien bowed derisively, an act which only cause the cheers to get louder.
"Being beaten by a gal? Aye aye, Tune!" snored one of the biggest warriors when the young and most embarrassed lad limped toward his laughing friends.
"As you could do better, Bear" Tune said bitterly, throwing a glance toward Ayrien. He was humiliated - but if she can take down like that the gigantic bear-like warrior, his humiliation would be minored.
"Against a gal? You must be kiddin', boy!" the warrior laughed, swelling his breast's muscles. Ayrien could definitely see how he got his nick - and why Tune said what he said.
"So why won't ya try, "bear"?" She asked him, her hand crossed over her chest, mockery in her eyes and all her stand shouts "challenge!".
"Cause I do'wonna hurt ya, gally"
"But surely, a warrior of your scale can take a "gally" like me down, without even using power or is the true reason is that you do'wanna get hurt yourself?" Her words were covered with poison, and Bear's brain was flashed with anger - who does she think herself to be, letting herself to talk to him like that?!
Wordless, he brutally pushed the warriors standing in front of him aside, approaching Ayrien with echoing mighty steps. Once standing in front of her, he sent his hand to push her down - but she wasn't there any more. She was behind him, pulling his cloak again and again like a little child. Blinded with anger he turned immediately around - and found himself trapped inside his own cloak. Though he could not move his hands, his head and legs were free - so he tried to gore her and then to kick her. But Ayrien was too quick - his gore, that was easily sneaked-off by her, did nothing but disballanced him, and when his foot was off-ground, in order to kick - the agile girl took advantage and kicked his other knee, knocking him down. Half a moment later, before he had time enough to recover, she was already sitting on his back, holding his head in such a position it was very clear that in the slightest move she can break his neck. Once victorious she leaped off the lying figure, turning her back to him. She stood in front of the Fianna with fists held firmly in front of her, and asked "Anybody else?"
The challenge was answered, but not by someone else: the raged Bear, who got to his feet with the help of his friends, was running toward her, almost ramming her. Although he almost touched her, she was not unaware to that danger: in the very last moment she moved an inch left, and he was rammed into the inn's wall
"OK, that's enough!" A new figure popped into the group - Ayrien recognized him as Oisin, Finn's elder son and his deputy. "Someone can get hurt, and that's not a very wise thing when we're all about to leave." The warriors, apparently, were used to obey his orders - no one opposed. "Well " He looked at the young triumphant girl; "You've gained yourself the right to join our little company - for launch. I passed by the kitchen and smelled lamb cookin' - would you like to share it with us?"
"I would love to" Ayrien's face remained serious, but there were bells of laughter in her words when she glanced toward the lying warrior. "I'm as hungry as a bear!"
To Be Continued...