Learning to dance… and other things

This is my usual pre-fiction warning that while this story is based on experiences and UPG of my own, it’s important to note, it’s not based on lore, or general gnosis. It’s personal, unverified, etc, etc. So, please – don’t go saying this is canonical, it’s fiction….

She loved the skirt. She wasn’t usually one for skirts much, leggings were far more practical to her way of thinking, but this skirt was lovely. It was made of light fabric and swirled around her legs, making her feel special and unique. Surely no one else would have a skirt like this? She twirled as she went down the road to meet her friends, delighting in the feel of the fabric and the weighlessness of the whole thing. As she met her friends, there was giggling and laughing and admiration of outfits – all as was usual for a big night like this.

It wasn’t often the place had musicians like this come to play and anyone over the age of 14 (or able to convince parents and guardians that they were mentally if not chronologically old enough to attend) was there. The old grannies and grandads lining the walls where, hopefully, the music wouldn’t be too loud, the youngsters at the front waiting for the music to start and the lepping and dancing to begin.

It started quiet enough, with the usually group dances, and they were fun, but there was energy building in the room, and the hairs at the back of her neck were rising, rising with the energy. After the break, there was an announcement that they were going to try some new stuff, some new tunes. “tell us if you like them” was the call and everyone rushed the floor to begin.

There were drums, she thought, beating in time to her pulse, causing her legs and arms to move almost of their own volition with no conscious thought at all. These weren’t the carefully learned steps of the set dances, this was individual dances, no set steps, no control over body or mind. She found herself with the group of lads everyone agreed were the ones to watch. They were the sportsmen, the ones that were going places, the ones that would be the leaders of the community in years to come. Normally she wouldn’t have belonged there, but tonight, with her special skirt and the thumping music, she belonged anywhere. One in particular, he caught her and threw her, up and up in the air til she was flying and laughing and singing in time with the drums.

But indeed all things come to an end and most people there had crops to tend to and animals to feed come the morning, neither of which would wait a sleepy man or woman with patience. And so the music ended and although there were calls for more, most agreed there was time to be finished now. And as the people on the dancefloor drifted away, the boy she had been dancing with, the one who had been laughing and flying with her, rubbed the back of his neck and ducked his head so that he was looking up at her through hair long lost of any style.

“Well, um, are you dancing so?” he said and she laughed some more.

“I could walk you home”, he said, “for fear you might be weak after all the dancing. Hate to think of you not getting there safely.”

“Sure”, she agreed, for he lived out her way anyway, “but Da will be coming along the road to meet me anyway”.

“No worries, sure there’ll be a crowd of us anyway in that direction”. So he tousled his hair some more and she fixed her lovely new skirt, so light it was like wings of air around her on the floor, but a bit less new now than it had been at the start of the night. Still, it was special, and the moon was out and the stars were out.

She popped over to the water to get a drink, passing by the female equivalent of the lads she’d been dancing with, hearing snatches of conversation as she went by. “did you see her?” “slut… showing her legs” “shame on her to be bucklepping like that” “no decorum” “that skirt”

She slowed as she realised who they were talking about – to be fair they made it easy for her, stopping silent and staring at her as she paused by them. She looked them all in the face, seeing the judgement, the sneering, the superiority lingering there. She plucked at her skirt, her lovely new fancy skirt, almost seeing the lustre drain out of it with their comments. She was no slut, even if she didn’t understand what they meant by it, it was a word she knew meant something she was not. Her skirt was lovely.

Her eyes hot now and burning with the need to release these feelings of shame and fear, even if she didn’t fully understand why, she went back to the boy she’d, but with feet dragging in the dirt now, rather than lightly floating over it.

“What happened?” he said, then looked over to the other group. “Don’t mind them, whatever they said, jealous bitches the lot of them.”

Easy for him to say, she thought, stroking her skirt almost frantically.

“It’s a gorgeous skirt”, he offered, “I know my sis is dying to get one like it after seeing you tonight”.

“Oh, Mam made it for me, got the fabric from the trader last week”.

“Sis will be so jealous so, it’s unique for here!”

So saying, he linked arms with her and turned in the direction of home. And she focused on one foot in front of the other and smiling and hiding her true feelings and her hurt.

Her Da did indeed come out the road to meet her, smiling and waiting by the turn up to the house. The boy came right over to him as well, as if to make sure she’d not get lost crossing the road, or maybe to protect her from that group coming up behind.

“All ok lass?” her Da rumbled.

“Yeah, it was fun” she said, although she knew her Da would hear something wrong. She could feel him tensing up and starting to glare at the boy. “not him, Da, other people2.

Her Da looked at the young lad, waiting.

“There’s a crowd of jealous bitches in town that don’t have the courage to dance like your daughter, but then judge her for it and put her down. She was like an angel tonight, floating and dancing with the best of us. And that skirt is brilliant, I know my Ma will be down to ask about it in the week.” So saying he hugged her a goodnight and wandered further up the road home, falling in with his brother as he went.

“So, not a total success then?” She looked up at her Da and struggled to keep the tears in.

“No” came out in a whisper.

“Well you can tell me about it on the quiet road home, love, no one there to hear only ourselves and the foxes”.

And so it came out, the joy and the giggling and the laughter and the dancing and the drums and the beat and the whirl and the flying… and then the aftermath and the crushing feeling and the sadness and having to hold it all in so no one would see…

“I can see that was tough alright, love, but you don’t need to hold it in now. Let it all out”

And she did, weeping and wailing to the moon, standing with her Da’s arms around her, safe and secure. And then her Ma came out, ready to defend her young, until Da talked her out of it. Still, she had no doubt her tormenters would be having bad dreams tonight anyway. Her Ma wasn’t over-keen on unwarranted forgiveness and when one of her babies was threatened…

“So who’s this young lad then? He seemed decent.”

“Oh Da. He was one of the ones I was dancing with, remember I told you?”

“Oh yes, do I need to do my scary routine then?”

“You mean that oldy dancing you do?”

“Cheeky…. but yes… do you remember the steps?”

And so the three of them made their own music, under the stars, using the horrible, horrible movements her Da was convinced was dancing. And the family love surrounded her and helped to heal just a little the damage done earlier in the night.

And the next morning, the young lad came with his Ma, so she could find out more about the skirt…

The one with the fox

Please note this is a work of fiction based on a story of the saint with a fox and how I imagine it might have happened. This is UPG, fictional, NOT REAL.

We were worried, it’s true. The auld Fox, him that caused the phrase comh glic le sionnach (clever as a fox) to be coined in the first place, had been killed. Out on the hunt he was and a spear took him down. No one admitted to it of course, but there he was all the same, bleeding out on the ground, and nothing any of us could do to save him. And then of course, someone had to tell Himself that the Fox was gone, and to be fair it was a brave woman that did it in the end. Well, she was married to him, we thought she’d be safe enough, but even so it was a worry. Himself did love his auld Fox.

But now the Fox was gone from us. And we were left with Himself in a mood, an ongoing, ever lasting mood. Nothing could life him. We tried. We retold the stories the Fox used to tell. We re-sang the songs he used to sing. We had tumblers and dancers and musicians and entertainers galore in to try and life him and nothing worked.

And at the same time, there was a man kept confined. It was not our way usually, but really, we couldn’t trust Himself to give right judgement and blast it, there’s times you have to manage them above us. The man was likely to be killed if he went for judgement in that time and he hadn’t done anything worthy of that – or so we thought anyway, those of us who had hidden him away. Stolen a sheep from what I remember, for a youthful joke and the sheep given back the next day, but worry was given to the auld farmer who owned said sheep, the sheep being part of the family. So usually that would lead to a season’s work on the farm for the young lad or hiring someone to do it for him, if such could be found, but prices jumped when it was a judgement hire to be sure.

In the end, the Lady from Kildare was due a visit anyway. So we waited and kept him fed and tried to keep Himself from doing anything he’d really regret. And when she came walking up, she was maybe a bit surprised at the level of welcome she got. But the first thing she did was to throw Himself off someone he was yelling at. So that was a great start. Now Himself and the Lady were old friends, but you’d never think it from the row that followed. I won’t repeat the language used at all for fear someone might read it and think of using it, but they yelled each other up and down every wall in the place. And we had tall walls! It went on for hours. Hounds ran from them. Children were hiding behind their mothers’ skirts and some of them were taller than said mother! We were running interference as they moved through the place, moving any weapons we could see, leaving them blankets and rugs to fall on and throw at each other.

Well, the pair of them had tempers and Himself had been brewing a while and herself could never abide wallowing. In the end, she stopped and looked at him and said “Are you feeling better now, do you think?” And he laughed and we all heaved a sigh of relief.

Then while we were all at dinner, she left early to go say her prayers – her thoughts were always with God, you know, from the time she first heard of Him – and we thought nothing of it. And the next morning, she went off work a walk and we went to feed the young lad we had waiting for judgement only to find him gone. So we had to go chasing him. And the trail was easy enough to find, the lad had headed straight home and sure we could see him tearing along ahead of us. But he was on foot, and tired and we were on horses, so anyone could see how that was going to end. But the Fear must have been on the lad, because he was determined to escape us, he was scrambling on all fours to escape us, pulling himself up a hill, through brambles, squirming and twisting, dammit the horses couldn’t catch him.

So we went through the brambles on foot, with thorns as long as swords digging into us with every step. and hearing him ripping ahead of us. And we broke through the last barrier and there was the Lady standing in front of us, staring us down. And so we asked her had she seen the young lad, explaining what was going on and she said no, she had only seen a fox that had run under her skirts and weren’t we to be shamed for scaring the poor thing so. And we looked and thought it must be one big fox she had hidden, but she stared us down again and asked were we thinking that she, the holy lady that she was, would be lying about such a thing? And sure what could we do but say that no, of course we wouldn’t be accusing her of lying, didn’t everyone know she was brutally honest… And we stood there, scruffing our toes off the dirt, trying not to make it look like we were trying to see under her skirts, cos it wasn’t a fox, but the lady wouldn’t lie to us, but still…

In the end, she took pity on us. She laughed and took pity on us and shook out her skirts and sure enough, there was yet man, bold as brass. Well not so much bold, as shaking and shivering, hunkered down on the ground, trying to hide even now. And explained to us that the young lad would be no good for the season on the farm, but as a Fox, now, as a Fox, he might work out very well. And wouldn’t we get great praise from Himself for finding him a Fox as cunning and entertaining as the last one. Now she couldn’t be seen to be passing him over, seeing as how she had just torn strips off him the day before, but couldn’t we present him with his new Fox as a new entertainer tonight.

And what of the poor farmer and his recompense? Well of course she’d thought of that. The poor farmer was going to get help as well, with the young lad gone from home, there was trouble there somehow, but she wouldn’t give the details and the poor young lad was speechless, anyway, with the young lad gone from home, there was someone else that could leave as well and they’d be well pleased to help out the farmer for a season or maybe more. And even better the farm was close enough to the places the Fox was likely to be anyway, so they could still be family, even if not the same as before.

Well, we weren’t going to say her nay, now were we? Sure he was worth a try as a new Fox and if we threw him in with the other entertainers, he’d be safe enough. The Lady would take care of the help for the farmer she said, but laid a clear obligation on the young lad that he was to visit the farmer in 9 days time and not to miss it, because it was important. None of our business as to why, of course, but he nodded and looked a bit relieved. And we were told to make sure this happened as well, that he wasn’t caught in a hunt or such on that day.

And so the young lad performed that night and he proved a success. He kept Himself entertained and although he had a different way about him, he reminded more than a few of us of the way the auld Fox had about him. He could tell the stories, make Himself laugh, ended up pulling him out of a few moods as well… He was too old to be the auld Fox come back to us, so we just figured the Lady knew something we didn’t and left it at that.

Now he wasn’t tied to Himself in any way, it was a job, the same as most of the rest of us had. He could leave anytime he wanted, but he really seemed to enjoy coming up with the riddles and the tales and the songs – silly things, nothing a bard or file would contemplate most of the time, but he made a fine Fox for us all the same. And kept Himself happy, which really, was all we wanted. Life was a lot easier when Himself was happy.

Brig’s story

So time for some more fiction. I’ve been thinking and working on this for a while now and there’s probably more to it than there is on this page. (As in I can feel a further story coming up!) But I need to confirm here at the start: this is NOT historically accurate, this is chock full of UPG, it is not not not real or Brig’s thoughts or anything like that. This is my version of this story and should not be used as lore or the basis of a practice!!

Of course I married him willingly! You’ve met my Da right? Do you think he’d force me into something?

I mean, ok, love wasn’t exactly foremost in my mind. He was Formorian, we thought, as a nation, as a people, we thought it might help ease some of the burdens we were dealing with. If they were dealing with one of their own, maybe they’d look at things differently. It didn’t work out that way though.

Oh he was fine to look at, but sure they all look the same in the dark. Still, I had the children to make up for the disappointment in their making. Yes, children. Ruadhán might be the most famous, but there were others. Look, it’s best I start at the beginning here, otherwise you’re going to have the story as tangled and confused as everyone else. 

It was a fine spring day when I first saw him. Doubtless, I’d seen him before, there aren’t that many people around, but that was the first time I’d noticed him. Da had warned me he was coming and said he wouldn’t oppose it, if I chose to marry him. Of course, with his rank, and mine, it would need to be a full marriage. You can’t half-marry a land. Full or nothing with a land. He needed me to be king, and he knew it. It poisoned the match in ways I didn’t realise until much later, but at the start, he was courteous, he was well-mannered, he carried himself well. In  the circumstances, there was no reason not to. 

It wasn’t as if there was a line of suitors looking for my hand. Between Ma, and Da, and myself, we’d managed to scare them off pretty well. Anyway, like I said, he wasn’t offensive and some good came of it all in the end….

We married at Bealtaine. Bright, sunny, warm. People were happy, it was a grand feast all the same. Da laid on a good spread. (Well he kinda had to really, with being who he is). He called the sun, spoke to the moon and the stars, he called the cattle, called the pigs, called the fruits and the green things. All in all, it was a grand feast. Oh, yes, there was wine. And ale. Plenty of both. The big man wouldn’t have guests without feeding and wetting them. There were bards, and file, and harps, and songs, dancing and fighting, contests and wagers. People had a time of it. 

That night, I got the first taste. He was fairly domineering. Now, I was no shy virgin, but sure why would I be? It appeared he thought I might be and was disappointed. That’s what he said. He’s lucky I was reared as well as I was – any timid woman being greeted like that might have shook in her shoes. I, on the other hand… well he learned a few things that night himself. In public, he managed to keep himself in check and he was never violent towards me – he knew better. Sure I was better with a spear than he was! I made the things, he merely used them! 

But I saw how he treated the land, and it was as he treated me. Poor judgement? Oh yes, Da played him well that time, good advice he got there, but my poor land was suffering under him, no more than her people were. I saw it all, watched and remembered. 

The children arrived, as children do. They spent time with their grandparents on both sides, it was important to me that they knew all that they were. My Ruadhán was the eldest, and ended up being the most famous, bad cess to them that persuaded him to that course of action. But my girls, oh my girls, were my joy. Their father didn’t think much to them, at least not until he thought they were marriageable. And thankfully by that stage, he was occupied with other things. 

Boy or girl, I taught them as I’d been taught: courtesy and manners, words first, fists as a last resort, how to hunt, how to grow, how to tend the land and its people. As a young boy, Ruadhán loved to spend time with us, his Ma and his sisters. We could wander as we liked near to home, since the little ones’ legs didn’t take them too far really and I couldn’t carry all 5 of them together! I did remember the tricks Da used to use on us as children though and the folds in the land got a bit shorter sometimes for tired legs on the way home. “There’s no point in completely discouraging the children, pet”, he’d say to me, “They might as well grow thinking they’re capable of more than they are, that way it’ll be harder to persuade them otherwise.”

I mean, he was right, telling my daughters they couldn’t do something is still a sure fire way to ensure they will do it, regardless of cost. I sometimes worry about that, maybe we should’ve given them a bit more sense of what’s possible rather than giving them the assumption they can do anything. They’re happy though, and fierce fighters, although mostly with words, thankfully, rather than weapons, one child lost to violence is enough for any parent. I’ve lost track of the genealogy now of course, but there are folk in the modern world I’d like to think are related to them. They certainly show some of the same traits…

I spent my days split between teaching the children and working in the forge when they were small. Even Ruadhán loved to spend time in the forge, so many bright colours, and let’s face it, on a dreary, miserable day, only in the forge could we get warm. Bres was always on at me to turn my mind to more feminine pursuits. The first time he suggested it, I laughed in his face. Not the most diplomatic of moves, I have to admit, but I honestly thought he was joking. I worked in the dairy, I worked with the cattle, I kept the hearth fires going – how much more feminine could I be? But of course, he meant giving up the forge. I told him eventually it would mean giving up life to give up the forge. 

I don’t think he ever understood how true that was. Fire is in my blood, same as water, but it’s not always the tame fire and the tame water. The forge heats a part of my soul he never touched, so he couldn’t understand it. He only knew that once again, I defied his wishes. We were a marriage of equals though – he had no right to rule over me. In fact without me, he was no king. 

On the day of the battle, I was working with the wounded in the back. The three older girls were with me, the youngest one was with her grandmother with the herds. I think we had to bribe her with a new boar pup to get her to stay behind! When Da saw that, he did some muttering I can tell you. Da and boars never really got on…

Still, if I had known what was happening, I would’ve spoken to my son, spoken to him about the course of action and the likely outcomes. But I didn’t. He was growing away from me then, seeing the superiority of his father’s people, seeing the advantages of moving to that side of the conflict. He was too young yet to make the choice, but we could all see the way he was leaning. Still a child though, which was why he could move between the camps so easily. I heard the commotion, and heard my boy’s cry as the spear entered his body. I ran of course, but we were all too late. Goibhniú was devastated – killing a child is no small thing – but nothing could reach me that day. They say I invented keening and the whistle. I don’t know what I did, all I knew was the pain inside me had to come out. 

He was my Ruadhán, my bright and shining boy. He couldn’t speak and I held his head as the light faded from his eyes. A part of me went with him. It was like a giant hand clutched my heart and squeezed and the pain had to come out – sound was the only way. The girls were there with me, screaming with me – people forget that, that they saw their brother die. After, I was so glad I’d sent the youngest away. 

No, their names are their own and not for me to share. If they wish it, they will make them known to people. 

To lose any child is a tragedy; to lose one still not grown is worse, I think. Although, what parent ever 100% thinks their child is grown? (I know Da surely doesn’t!)

Well after that, I wasn’t going to stay there. One child lost to that war was enough. I picked up the girls and got back home. Da knew, Ma knew, they understood. They were parents too, even if we were all grown at that stage. I got all my girls home. Oh, some of his men may have tried to stop me, but my own people got me through. No deaths on that score, but it was a struggle. Some rubbish about supporting my husband as I should. Christianity didn’t invent misogyny y’know. 

We got home, I was in a panic, I wanted to run, fast and far as I could, but wiser heads than mine prevailed over me. We had some horses, we packed up food and clothes and things we needed to bring with us. There were a number of dolls included in the essentials as I recall, but they were important too. The girls and I left the war, left the conflict behind us. Da had long ago made sure there were places I could bring them that were easily defended and protected. Even with the small band of my own people we could spare from the fight, we had enough and loyal warriors all. Plus, enough women in the group to ensure my girls grew up thinking of hunting and fighting as they did cleaning and cooking – something that was needful, with varying regularity, part of life. 

They were well-trained in the end and popped up all over the place when they were needed. They knew their father, knew their history, but most importantly they survived and they grew. And in the end, what else does a mother need. 

But this is meant to be my story, is it? Well, the marriage was over – eventually. It was definitely over by the time he was ended, but by then, I’d say he’d forgotten about it anyway, having been dethroned so to speak. Me? Well, I had the girls of course and I didn’t turn into a Christian nun for many centuries afterwards, sure. I lived my life. I suggest you do the same.

My first blog post

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

Please note, the below story is fiction, based on myths in Ireland about Brigid being present at the birth of Christ and, indeed, serving as his foster mother (which in Ireland was a much bigger deal back in the Iron Age, and even later, than it currently is). This is not fact, not even generally accepted, but a story to show Brigid, her Da and a few other important figures at a time of change.

“You don’t have to come with me.”

“It’s been a while since I was over that way.”

“I am a grown woman y’know, well capable of looking after myself.”

“A bit of company on the journey will make it all the shorter.”

“That’s what I was hoping, but having me Da along will cramp my style a bit, don’t yeh think?”

“Ah sure I wouldn’t know anything about that…”

“Sure yeh wouldn’t… and I suppose it was always cold and lonely yeh slept the last time yeh went on walkabout?”

“That’d be my own business.”

“Hmph. You’re not coming.”

“It’s a free country, be the gods, and you can’t stop me.”

“Da, I’m a woman grown, I don’t need my da looking after me.”

“Sure it’s been a while since I had a decent stretch of the legs.”

“Since when is 5,000 miles a decent stretch of the legs?”

“Well, I suppose we could call it a stroll, but that seems a bit overly modest, like.”

“It’s me they need y’know. It’s woman’s things…”

“And I suppose I know nothing about it?”

“If you come out with the same-as-a-mare-birthing speech again…”

“No, no, but there are similarities y’know.”

“Will yeh not be needed here though? I mean the place is in a bit of a mess.”

“The others can manage it. They’ve done so before.”

“Just the two of us is it?”

“Well that depends on how lucky we get on the road.”

“Da!!”

“Have yeh got everything?”

“Of course I’ve bloody well got everything!”

“Just checking, you remember the time-”

“Yeh’ll never let me forget it yeh auld goat, will yeh, it was my first trip out.”

“Still, no harm in checking.”

“I suppose if you’re coming along, there’s a few more things I can bring along. Wait a mo.”

She disappeared into the cabin, reappearing in seconds with a nice big pack, bursting at the seams.

“Don’t come, Da, was it. I don’t need yeh, Da, was it.”

“There was no point telling yeh it was my idea, was it? Come on, daylight’s wasting.”

The pair of the set off, leaving the cabin safe and secure behind them. 

“Did you remember any bit of a snack to keep me going, darlin?”

“Left pocket, Da.”

“Good girl.”

“Da!!”

A bit later on: “Da. the distance between Ireland and the big land seems to have gotten a lot shorter.”

“I’d say the distance is the same as it always was, now.“

“Have you completely reversed the tides for the last few hours then?”

“Ah no, just asked an gealach for a bit of a helping hand, like…”

“Da, we’re really not meant to be doing that – look at the poor fish!”

“Fair point, don’t worry, I’ll send them back once we’re over.”

“You could’ve just let me help, you know”

“My poor baby girl? I couldn’t be doing that now”

“Da!”

A bigger bit later on: “Da seriously – someone is going to notice the bloody mountain just moved half a continent away!”

“You’d be surprised what people don’t notice… and sure I put it back, didn’t I?”

“I’m telling Aengus when we get home. No cheating, kids, a job worth doing is a job worth doing right.”

“Well and it is worth doing right – I didn’t do it wrong, did I? Time’s awasting, pet and we need to be getting on really.”

“I wasn’t the one who spent 3 weeks in that last camp.”

“I didn’t notice you leaving”

“You hid the bloody packs on me!”

“You do know you’re a deity, pet, don’t you? I mean technically, you don’t need the packs.”

“I’m starting to see why Ma insisted you come with me – she needs the break!”

“I love you too, pet. Now look, yer Ma was clear – arriving too early is as bad as arriving too late. That poor cratur is going to need help so we have to be accidentally sharing the bloody stable with them. I mean a stable? I get the whole humble origins myth making, we have a few ourselves, but a bloody stable? The poor woman deserves better than that. We need to have a word with the man in charge of this.”

“You can have a word after I get that child safely birthed and the mother happy and well. You know what he’s like Da, there’s no reasoning with him on some of this stuff.”

“I know, I know – sure aren’t you lucky your head of pantheon is so reasonable and affable like…”

“I don’t think anyone’s ever described Ma as affable, Da.”

“Bloody brats, don’t know why I bother”

He elbows her in the side. 

“Race you to that next mountain – go!”

“Hey, no fair, you cheated, Da!”

Nearing the end of the journey now: “Da you are not going into that town looking like that.”

“I don’t remember you being this fussy as a youngster?”

“I grew up. Look compared to home, the water will be nice and warm really. Just strip and get in, I’ve got clean clothes for you.”

“Who’s the bloody parent here and who’s the child??”

“You and me. Or possibly the other way round – just bloody wash yourself, would you?”

“Bloody kids, once they reach your shoulder, they think they can order you about….”

Nearly there: “Now look Da, there’s no need for a hullaballoo going in the gates. Do your ‘I know no Latin’ impression”. 

“They don’t need to think we’re a bunch of ill educated louts, pet.”

“I know, I know, but we’re here incognito, remember?”

“All right, all right. So instead of a nice polite Im homini negotiatori, we’ll try the old negotiator, negototiator chant?”

“That’s it Da.”

“This is how those rumours of our countrymen being incapable of education start, y’know.”

“No, Da, that’ll be the millenium of others doing their damndest not to educate us. Now come on, your best effort on a non-Latin speaking, yet wealthy enough trader please?”

So close I can almost taste it: “Is this it?”

“I dunno, there’s at least one pregnant woman in there. Look at it, they’ve not even had the sense to put the straw into a mattress for her!”

“Easy now, pet, sure they’re wealthy, don’t forget, this is the worst hardship they’ve known…”

“Still, it’s the man’s wife, could he not make an effort?”

“His wife who he knows damn well isn’t pregnant by him.”

“So?”

“Fair point, I suppose. OK you’re going to be all earthy midwife then – ow!”

“Serves you right, you auld goat. Right, I’m going in to sort out some bedding at least, you make sure those bloody wise men turn up on time will you?”

“What about the cowherds?”

“Shepherds. They’ll be grand, all they have to do is follow the sheep.”

“Fair enough. Need a hand?”

“I might later on with the husband, but for now, I’ll be grand.”

The stable smelled about as fragrant as any stable, although there had been goats in there at some point. The lady was sitting on a pile of straw, looking miserable and in pain. Her husband was not quite wringing his hands, but he looked close. Sure what could you do? I poked my head round the door, let out as merry a “Bhur ndéithe daoibh” as I could, and bustled in. They looked confused ,obviously, but it was unlikely they’d heard the Irish before I suppose. 

The stables were big and airy – well built really, even Da wouldn’t have too many problems with them – but stables they were. Piles of straw for the animals, a tackroom over in the corner (room might be overstating the case there, but it was sectioned off), upper floor for more storage. Now this lot didn’t have any of the usual travel amenities to help them along. They hadn’t planned on staying this long of course, aiming instead to have been home at this point. But it was too late now. I could tell by looking at her, the child was coming along soon. Slight problem there since it was barely daybreak, and the shepherds wouldn’t be along til there stars were out. Still, maybe Da could do something about that.

Now look, it was Aramaic these people spoke, but seriously, translating and writing in that language after all this time would take me too long, so just trust me on it alright? I had a few words of it, and enough Greek to back it up, so we muddle along. This isn’t a precise rendition, more of an overview, anyway. 

Not wanting to butt in too early, I prepped up our sleeping arrangements and made sure Da’s midnight snack was handy. The woman was staring at me as if she’d never seen a bed made before. Alright, I might have made one slightly fancier than usual to make a point, but still. Anyway, even in her pain, she knew my version of sleeping arrangements would be far more comfortable than hers. Her husband, being a devout man, was reluctant to talk to me, but she was less shy. She called over, I went over to their side and we had a bit of a chat. 

Now a woman in labour is not a woman to be pulling and prodding at straw, shaping it and placing it, so I did most of the work, but by the end of it, we were close enough that I could make a few enquiries as to how things were going. Her first child, her midwife at home (wasn’t allowed travel with them for some reason), her husband not even having Da’s experience with mares (just don’t get me started) – sure the poor thing was terrified about it all. Added on to that, the pressure of needing a live birth because she was delivering the Saviour of the World… well you can imagine the state she was in. I always thought if the child was that important, that particular Deity  could have managed a bit more help and comfort for the poor woman, but Da reckons we were enough. Some people make things harder on themselves for no good reason. “No direct influence” indeed. What good is free will when people are dying? 

Must remember we are not puppet masters and our people deserve to make their own mistakes. Doesn’t mean I can’t drop a few warnings every now and again though…..

Anyway, back to the woman in question. Well, I was just about to figure out how to ask how she was doing in broken Greek, when Da popped his head round the door to get the husband out of there. I looked a bit surprised since the baby wasn’t due til starlight, but he was muttering to himself and indicated that things might be moving a bit quicker than expected. Or maybe, perhaps, the stories we knew were coming to our people weren’t 100% accurate….

Either way, I looked at the woman who was moaning quietly away to herself, probably trying not to make a fuss, but definitely starting to feel the labour pangs. Someone messed up somewhere with the distribution of pain in childbirth, but I had been hoping the birth would be as easy as it could be. I mean, if you were in charge of bringing your son into the world, wouldn’t you try to make it as easy as possible on the woman who was going to be rearing him? Obviously, that particular Deity and I have different views on these things. 

Now, the birth was straightforward I suppose – the babe was in the right position, no cords round his neck, etc, etc, etc, but the poor woman suffered something awful with the pain she went through. I used any of the herbs I had that I thought might help, but they were older than I’d like and I didn’t know enough to be able to send Da out to get some local ones. Plus, by the sounds of it, he had the husband chopping wood and it wasn’t going too well. Now, I had thought he was a carpenter, but he’d obviously not been involved at this stage of the process before…

Still, the babe was alive and healthy, the mother was also alive and healthy, and recovering nicely, so that it was about sunset when I was able to let the husband and Da back in. Da had his hand on the poor man’s back – I was sure if he was holding him up, or propelling him forwards, but the man was moving like he was in a trance towards the woman on the bed, nearly tripping over the haybox I’d put the child in for the minute. 

Da made all the usual noises over the child (isn’t he the spitting image of you, fine healthy lungs, etc) before muttering something about more visitors arriving. 

The first lot weren’t too bad. The night was cold alright and a few sheep are as good as any blanket or hot water bottle once you persuade them to lie down where you want them. The shepherds had brought gifts of food and firewood, bless them, cos really, there’s only so long you can keep a fire going without adding anything to it before people start noticing. Even brand new parents would cop there’s something going on there. Between the sheep and the food, it was a bit of a feast we had going then. I even brought some out to Da, who I found rummaging through the packs – destroying my system he was, but you know Da. He got most of it back where it should have been. Eventually. 

The next lot weren’t as useful in my opinion. Da reckons they were the propaganda people, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have been useful as well. I’ve heard he claims 12, but all I remember is a crowd of them anyway, all done up in fancy gear and arguing between themselves. They could have been some of our own folk debating a prophecy really. Not a decent gift between them though. I mean, these are first time parents, you’d think a bit of cash towards this and that would’ve been sensible, but they were so concerned with the Saviour of the World bit, they forgot about the newborn baby with first time mother bit. Honestly. I don’t think any of them were married. Still, gold is always welcome and Da’s bits of frankincense and myrrh were useful as well – even if they sold it for more gold, it would come in handy. 

I have to admit, they didn’t look too impressed with the new baby. I mean he was lying there, snoozing away to himself, looking as cute as all newborns do (well, otherwise, they’d never survive if they didn’t look so cute!) and all they could do was mutter to themselves and point at me and the mother as if trying to figure out who was who. Well the breastfeeding sorted that out. Shocked them a bit, mind, but they deserved it really. Eventually, I had to get Da in to shoo them out again cos the father had fallen in love by this point and would put up with anyone as long as they weren’t interrupting his oogling of his baby. (Oh the child was his now, alright, never mind any discrepancies of timings)

The major problem with prophecies, as far as I can see it, is that once they’re made, anyone can get hold of them. So when the ruler over there, Herod I think it was, got wind of the fact that someone important was born and of course, those bloody Important Visitors were too important to get away without having to pay him a visit. To their credit, I suppose, they did their best to mislead him, but it was still time to get this little family away from that place, or indeed any place where that man had power. 

Seeing as how I was meant to be a simple midwife and not knowing much about the world, I couldn’t just say something, but Da had a word with Someone and the next thing is, Joseph’s had a dream to get out. Well that was handy now, wasn’t it?

Da had to head home at that point. (He doesn’t like to admit it but ever since that business with Cermait and the club he doesn’t like being away from home too long). But I could hang around for a while longer and frankly, they were going to need the help. The whole issue of heading for Egypt and not for home took a while to sort out, but eventually, the father was persuaded it might be an idea to lay low while the massacre of the innocents was underway. (Look it up, we didn’t hang around, so I can’t vouch for the veracity of any of the stories, but the rumours were horrible. His own sons, even!)

I waved goodbye to Da as he hit off for home and the rest of us turned towards Egypt. I’m still not 100% sure why we chose Egypt, but it was reasonably close. I think they might have had family there or something. 

But the soldiers were close after us (I mean they took their time at the start, we had time to stop off at the temple in some town or other to get the birth rites seen to – actually, I wonder if that’s why Da left us in the stable?) But there were times in Egypt when it got a bit close for anyone’s liking. 

Now I will say now, I never did anything as daft as wander about with a crown of candles on my head. I’m not vain, but if there was ever a recipe for losing your hair…

I did intercede with the spider though. Lovely thing, very obliging, whipped us up a grand web in no time – and over a fairly hefty cave mouth as well. As for the legend of the mother with the date palm and the well – I’m my father’s daughter, alright. Asking the water to flow a bit differently for a few days wasn’t a massive deal. Not that little trickle. And in that dry place, a trickle goes a long way.

In the end though, it was mainly exhausting. We had to mostly do things without my help since the local folk look to different power sources than we do at home. I got very good at cleaning the child’s backside on the run though. Even the most unexposed soldier can tell a baby’s output smell…

We got word from someone (don’t ask me who, the familial connections would rival an Irishperson’s for complications and 3rd cousins twice removed etc and in a foreign language, sure I could hardly follow at all), anyway, we heard that the old king was dead. Painfully, it must be said and I can’t say I was overly sorry to hear it. Now it still wasn’t exactly safe, what with all the upheaval and hassle that comes with a change in rulership, but certainly, there didn’t seem to be anyone specifically after the child any more. Plus, they needed to settle down and raise him now, not be gadding about over half the Middle East. Not that it was called that then, being part of that wonderful Roman Empire. 

I was sad seeing them go – sure didn’t we know even then the man wouldn’t live to see his grandkids. Still, he’d have a good life for a few decades before the burden of saving the world started weighing on him. He was a gorgeous child though – I mean, they all are, but even so. You spend long enough looking at a baby in the hours before dawn and you’ll fall in love too. 

The journey home was fierce long though. Don’t tell him I said it, but Da does know how to make time pass and miles pass. Even if it does involve jumping half a continent to move things along. When I arrived home, the fire was going in my little house, the hearth not the forge, and there was bread and cheese laid out. There are some advantages to having not-quite-human parents. 

I still gave out to them about going through my stuff behind my back though.