Entertainment to Our Mind

Reluctantly, he handed me the paper. I scanned the first line and stopped.

This vignette was written for my newsletter, but I thought I’d share its conceit with a wider audience. And since no one knows who wrote the 9th century poem  Pangur Bán, why not my character Cillian?

“Lord Sorley?”  Mhairi called to me as I crossed the hall, returning from a morning’s ride. A rest day, nominally, but without teaching responsibilities I’d used the time to inspect fields and ditches, looking for winter damage. “Could you take the Comiádh his tea?”
“As long as you add a mug for me,” I said.
She brought me the tray, the scent of rosehips rising from the pot. “Thank you. I have milk heating, and I should not leave it.” 
I pushed open the door to the annex with my foot, carrying the tray along the hall. The door to Cillian’s library stood ajar, and I could see he was writing. He looked up at my footsteps, smiling a welcome. Curled up on pile of papers on his right, his white cat slept.
The kitten had been presented to Druise, the year Gwenna left for cadet school at the White Fort. ‘A kitten so you miss your Kitten less,’ Lena had said. He’d taken the little thing in his big hands, smiling at its loud purr, but in the end it had been Cillian it had adopted, not Druise. Privately, I’d been glad: over the years, we’d amassed a collection of Casilani glass: bowls and jugs. The havoc a kitten could have wreaked didn’t bear thinking about.
Cillian put his pen down and stretched. I poured us both tea and sat in the other chair. “You’ve been out,” he said. “I can smell the fresh air and sunshine on you.”
“More likely the mud on my boots,” I said. “A fair bit of ditching to do this spring.” I glanced at the paper in front of him. “What are you writing?” It didn’t look like a lesson, or the history he’d been working on for years. “A poem? Who are you translating now?”
“Not a translation,” he said. He looked, I thought, nearly embarrassed. I grinned at his discomfiture.
“Original verse? Isn’t that my job?” I held out a hand. “Shall I judge your scáeli’s skills?”
He hesitated, reaching for the paper as if to move it away from my grasp. I raised an eyebrow. “I can’t read it? Are you writing love poetry to Lena now, after all these years?”
His startled look made me laugh. “You wouldn’t even think of it, would you?” I wrote the songs of love in this household, and they weren’t to Lena. Reluctantly, he handed me the paper. I scanned the first line and stopped. He’d picked up his cup and was sipping the tea, watching me. “You wrote a poem to the cat?” I asked.
“Not to the cat,” he said. “A comparison, of how his skills parallel mine: we are both hunters, in a way. An analysis, you might say. Read on, my lord Sorley.”
A few minutes later I handed him back his poem. “Better far than praise of men, it is to sit with book and pen”, I said, quoting his own words back to him. “You know yourself well, mo duíne gràhadh. But has Pangur here ever actually killed a mouse? I thought him too well fed for that.”
He stroked the cat. It raised its head, blinking, mewed, and settled back into sleep. “Nightly,” Cillian said. “He has a rather unfortunate tendency to bring them to me, dead or alive. Watching him hunt the ones he brings in alive was the source of the comparison.”
“Shall I write music for it?”
He chuckled. “No. It was only to see if I could make the argument stand, and in verse. An exercise, nothing more. It is not worth your time, nor likely mine. A diversion from the history that is my real work.”

The 9th C Reichenau Primer, written by an Irish monk, likely at Reichenau Abbey in Germany. It includes the poem Pangur Bán. 

*****

But eleven centuries later, the poem Pangur Bán is still known; is, in fact, often called the best-known Irish poem. Written (in Irish) by an unknown monk in the 9th Century, I have taken the liberty of giving its authorship to Cillian. Here is its best known translation, by the Irish scholar Robin Flowers (although I prefer this one by Seamus Heaney, and somehow think it is closer to what Cillian might have written).


I and Pangur Bán my cat,
‘Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.
 
Better far than praise of men
‘Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.
 
‘Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.
 
Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur’s way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.
 
‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.
 
When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!
 
So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Bán, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.
 
Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

Reichenau Primer photo: Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

White Cat photo: by Yera Castelán from Pixabay 

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A Slain Darling, Resurrected

Kill your darlings is shorthand to ‘remove scenes that don’t feed your story’ – and this was one.

This scene didn’t make it into the final version of Empire’s Reckoning, mostly because the book was already long, and while this added to character- and world-building, it didn’t feed the plot. But I awoke to snow today, and was reminded of it, so here it is. If you’re in the middle of the Empire’s Legacy trilogy, there are spoilers here.


Teannasach, may I go?” I asked formally. He stepped forward, offering an arm and the kiss of farewell. Our lips brushed for the briefest of moments. I wondered if knowing what I was made him uncomfortable, but if it did, he did not show it.

“Go safely, Lord Sorley,” he said. I swung up onto my horse and turned its head south.

I’d woken with a scratchy throat, but we’d talked and sung into the small hours, so I thought little of it. But as I rode through the morning, I reluctantly admitted to a cold. My throat was painfully sore now, and my nose alternately running and blocked.

Ingoldstorp was some distance away yet, but they would give me soup and fuisce, and a warm bed, and perhaps a night’s sleep would chase the illness away. I found my hat in the saddlebags and wrapped my scarf a little tighter around my neck. The day was getting colder, I was sure.

An hour later the snow began. Big flakes, wet and heavy, at first: then, when the wind picked up, smaller and denser. The world around me turned white, and still the snow fell, thick and fast and rapidly shrinking the visible world to no more than a few arms’ lengths in front of me. I started to shiver. I couldn’t see the road now; all I could do was trust my horse to seek shelter.

I let the reins lie slack. The gelding plodded steadily forward, its head low against the wind. My fingers were numb, and my toes. The snow stung the exposed skin of my face. I closed my eyes. 

Random thoughts: lambs would die in this. Had I wrapped my ladhar properly? Druise would be so angry with me. I drifted into a daze, time and the white world passing without sense or recognition.

My horse roused me, swinging his head and snorting. I looked around me, slowly realizing we stood in the lee of a building. I pushed myself up in the stirrups, my right leg dragging over the saddle as I dismounted, feet sinking into snow well over my ankles.

I fumbled along the wall of the building, looking for a door. I found one, but its latch resisted my stiff fingers. Swearing loudly, I pulled a glove off with my teeth and tried again. The horse pushed up against me, wanting cover.

On the fourth try I got the latch and the door open. I stumbled in, the horse following. A cattle byre, I could tell, from the smell and the heat, although almost no light found its way into the building. A cow lowed, and another. Probably the torp’s milk cows, I thought muzzily. I hoped so.

My hands were too cold to remove my horse’s bridle, or its saddle, even with both hands bare. He stood placidly enough, so I left him, moving towards the cattle. A warm, heavy body loomed in front of me. I put a hand on its side; it didn’t flinch. Slowly I moved around it until I was among the cows. I leaned up against one, almost hugging it. Apart from a flick of her tail, she didn’t object. Milk cows, as I had hoped, accustomed to being handled.

The heat radiating off the animals warmed me, even though the strong smell of urine in the byre made my eyes water. I would stink of cow, I thought, but I didn’t care. The cattle chewed and belched and shuffled, and one nosed me, its hot breath scented with hay. I’d never liked cattle much, before.

Warmed, I went back to my horse, removing his tack. He’d find hay and water, although the cows might kick him. By feel I found the bread and cheese in one saddlebag. Then I sat down to eat and wait.

The food tore at my sore throat, but I made myself swallow it, in small mouthfuls. I sat as close to the cattle as I safely could, and at some point, exhausted, I fell asleep.

A man’s voice woke me. Concerned, not angry: no torp or house would turn away a traveller in this weather. He knelt. “Are you well?”

I tried to speak, coughed instead. “Well enough,” I managed. “My horse brought me here. Where am I?”

“Ingoldstorp. Who are you?”

“Sorley.” A bout of coughing racked me. “Toscaire to the young Teannasach. I was riding south from Dun Ceànnar.”

“Well, sit quiet while I give hay to the kyne and your horse. I’ll take you up to the house, after.”

He was quick with the feeding. Then he piled the water trough high with snow, the byre door letting in blasts of cold as he went back and forth. It would melt soon enough from the animals’ body heat. Then he gave me a hand up, threw my saddlebags over his own shoulder, and took me to the house.

Winter Sheep Herd: Scott Payne, Pixabay

The snow and my cold ran their course together. Ingold—or rather his Konë—distractedly welcomed me, found me a bath and a bed, fed me, and sat me by the fire when I coughed. I had been lucky: I could well have died, had my horse not brought me to the cattle-byre. But my cold remained only a cold, preventing me from singing to repay my hosts’ hospitality, nothing more.

Not that the Eirën was often present. Ingold, a handful of years older than I, spent all the daylight hours out with his men and the sheepdogs, digging ewes and lambs out of drifts. I offered to help, but he refused. “I don’t doubt your skill with sheep, Sorley,” he said. “But you’ve work to do for the young Teannasach, and that can’t be risked.” So instead I fed the penned and stabled animals, and warmed half-dead lambs by the hearth of the house, with the Konë and the torpari women.

The weather changed on the fifth day, the wind shifting south, warm on the skin. Snow melted rapidly, turning the yard and the track to muck. “I’ll turn the sheep out in the morning,” Ingold told me, as we shared fuisce that night. I had played for them earlier; I couldn’t sing, but music of any sort was always welcomed. “You’ll be on your way, no doubt?”

“I will. If this weather reached south, the Casilani ships will have been delayed, but if not, they could be in harbour already. I have letters to go to Casil, from Ruar and the Raséair, and I must stop at the Ti’ach na Perras on the way.”

I had been gone well over two weeks. Ingold sipped his fuisce. “What are they like, these Casilani?” he asked.

“Wily. Sophisticated, and skilled with words and subtlety. At least the officials. The soldiers,” I shrugged, thinking of Druise, “are not so different from any men.”

“You’ll need all your wits about you, if you’re to ensure they treat us fairly,” he commented. “But the same was needed with the Marai. I suppose it’s no different. But we’ll be hard-pressed to pay tribute this year.”  The talk drifted to the effect of this unseasonal snow, and how many lambs had been lost. “We’ll have been better off than most,” Ingold said. “I had enough men to rescue most of them. Some of the torps will have lost almost all, I’d think.”

“Why did the Marai leave you alone?” Had he supported them?

He snorted. “I’m a practical man, Sorley. I sent my wife and children to Dun Ceànnar, and then I went too, but later. I told the torpari I’d gone south to fight at the Wall, for the Marai, and I left them orders to cooperate. We lost a lot of animals to feed the raiders. There’s some pale-haired babies born this year, and they took a few girls, and a boy or two, as slaves, but they didn’t burn the byres, or the cottages. A small price to pay for our lives, I’d say.”

I couldn’t argue. I toasted him silently, and he grinned and drank his fuisce down. “Bedtime,” he said. “I’ll be out at dawn tomorrow, so I’ll say goodbye now. Safe travels, Sorley.”

(c) 2020 Marian L Thorpe

Featured Image: Beneath The Snow Encumbered Branches, Joseph Farquharson. Public Domain

Sit back, put your feet up, and listen…

An audio version of your writing is an interpretation of your characters that extends out to others, a shared experience.

A writer, releasing her work into the world, gives her characters over to the readers. We have our own idea of their personalities, their appearance, their voices, but what we see and hear will not be what the reader sees and hears.

But an audio version of your work – that’s an interpretation of your characters that extends out to others, a shared experience. I’ve had other work read before on podcasts, but Benjamin Kelman’s reading of the first chapter of my novella Oraiáphon surpassed them. He has given his own versions of personality to my characters, surprising me with some, but in the end completely pleasing me.

Here’s the link. You’ll need about half an hour, but please, listen to his other readings too on Stories to Drive By. You won’t be disappointed.

The Power of Illustration

Duy Trinh is capturing the setting and feel of the story with great skill.

I’m working on a little stand-alone ‘chapbook’ of my short story, In an Absent Dream. It will be illustrated with black & white drawings by the artist Duy Trinh, who is capturing the setting and feel of the story with great skill.  Publication date is still to be announced, but here’s a preview of one of the illustrations, with the passage from the short story that inspired it.

duy-1

“It’s just this world, these streets, these fields…but it’s overlain with roads and paths and occasionally buildings that don’t exist in the world under the sun. It’s like they hover over (or under) the solidity of the everyday world, taking shape and substance only when someone – me – enters them.”

“In An Absent Dream” is published in the small collection Spinnings available as an ebook ….or you can wait for the chapbook to have a hauntingly illustrated paperback!

 

Happy Hallowe’en, Blessed Samhain, Solemn All Souls’ Eve

Whatever your beliefs are for October 31st, you will find something to appreciate in Spinnings: Brief Fantasies in Prose and Verse – and it’s free until November 1st.

You can download it here for the Kindle, or for the Kindle app for iOS or Android.

 

Spinnings Final Cover

 

Day 2 Hallowe’en Book Giveaway!

Five Star rated on Goodreads and Amazon . Free for Hallowe’en weekend in all Amazon markets!

Spinnings Final Cover“I had to find reasons to return, to walk the old city, to keep the faerie paths clear…”                                                    In An Absent Dream

“I could see that from each bone, each skull, a fine thread ran, attaching it to the next, and
the next, creating a cat’s cradle that gathered more and more threads as they ran towards and disappeared into the alcoves.”                                                                                      The Spider’s Spinning  

Five Star rated on Goodreads and  Amazon.  Free for Hallowe’en weekend in all Amazon markets…stories just right for reading on Hallowe’en night! Read on your Kindle, or your Kindle app for iOS or Android.

Shivers up my Spine

Got 10 minutes or so? Click on the link and listen!

You’re a writer. You write something – a short story, say; you think it’s good. Other people read it; you read it out loud at a couple of open mic nights. People like it.

But hearing it read by someone else, someone who is a really really good reader, is a whole new experience.bssh

Bob Daun at Bob’s Short Story Hour reads my short story A Spider’s Spinning so well, it sent shivers up my spine. (Which it is supposed to do – it’s a scary story – but I didn’t expect to have that reaction, given I’d written it.)

Got 10 minutes or so? Click on the link above and listen, while you’re cooking dinner or folding laundry or just sitting back with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Not just to my story, but to the music and other readings on this episode. You won’t be disappointed.

Last Day of Spinnings Release Giveaway!

For the rest of today, you can download the first book in the Empire’s Legacy series: Empire’s Daughter, free from Amazon.

Today is the last day of the giveaway accompanying the release of my pair of short stories, Spinnings: Brief Fantasies in Prose and Verse.

For the rest of today, you can download the first book in the Empire’s Legacy series:  Empire’s Daughter, free from Amazon.

Links for both books are below.  Please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads if you download either book!  Thanks.

Spinnings

Amazon.com      Amazon.ca       Amazon.co.uk

Empire’s Daughter

Amazon.com     Amazon.ca     Amazon.co.uk