Llwyd ap Afor
I am Llwyd, son of Afor and Bladwyd. And yes, I am their oldest son, in fact their only son, I have two older sisters. Apparently in Landsrue being the oldest male child is important, in Morgraine inheritance goes to the fittest, and that I probably am not. As I said I come from Morgraine, south of Eyre, the kingdom of Annwn to be specific. My father is King Arawn’s groom, and thus oversees the stables (not that King Arawn, he’s a distant ancestor of the present King). Before I continue, let me explain this one point, Morgraine, unlike Landsrue, is many small kingdoms, Annwn being one, each ruled by its own king. There are over-kings and high-kings a-plenty, and their stories are interesting, but their actions did not have much effect on me when I was young. Annwn holds several farms at the base of a pass through the mountains. It is fairly important strategically, I guess. In addition to the King’s men, there is a small band of Fianna (they serve no king, rather they serve the good of Morgraine) to keep the pass clear. My mother was one of them, until she left to raise her family. All told there were about 200 souls living the lands of Annwn, small by your standards, I know.
My mother did her best to train all three of us in the ways of a warrior, but I fear I was a disappointment to her. I learned enough to stand with the king’s warriors should there ever be a need, but probably not enough to actually survive the fight. Fortunately, my oldest sister, Elen, proved an apt pupil in the combat arts. It is said that to pass the tests of the Fianna one must have a drop of the blood of the Sidhe in their veins. By my generation it must be so thin that Elen got it all. The same year I became an initiate, she did pass the test and joined the Fianna, they sent her off to Arberth and I’ve seen her but once since. I don’t begrudge her that, in time I found my talents and my place.
My father also tried to teach us his craft. I can’t say I enjoyed cleaning the stables, I did look forward to the time of the day when the horses needed to be exercised. None of Afor’s children will take his place, but the stables may stay in the family, as Menna, my other sister, has her eye on father’s assistant, Tegid.
Other work to do in Annwn includes farming and hunting. Farming is too much like work. And I didn’t have a farm. There was a farmer’s daughter, Sian, but that’s years later, and another story? So it looked like I was to be a hunter.
But what I really was best at was music, and in Annwn I mostly learned by myself. After many unsuccessful tries, I built a fife, small flute, maybe you’d call it a pennywhistle. I played it for hours. And occasionally, maybe once a year, a Harper would pass through. I’d follow him (or her) around like his favorite hound. I’d listen to everything he played. And I would pick it up pretty quickly.
In the spring of the year I was to turn nine, when my parents were making plans to apprentice me to the hunters, a Druid named Ceri came to town. We didn’t know she was a Druid, we assumed she was just another traveling Harper. I followed her around, as usual to learn some of her songs. Either my eagerness to learn new songs, or my ability to pick them up quickly caught her attention. I played my fife for her, and I sang (puberty had not yet laid its scratchy claws on my voice). She taught me a few chords on her harp, which I also picked up quickly. The she was silent for a few moments. She looked at me, stared really, and said I had potential. Later I learned she had cast an Aura spell, and saw my Magery talent, perhaps I had some of the blood after all! She told my parents that I might be worth training. They asked me if that was what I wanted, but I already knew that was the path I was to follow.
We left the next day. I learned that she was an Ollave, one who has studied for at least fourteen years and passed two ordeals. I was an initiate; one whose studies had commenced, but had not passed the first ordeal. After a week of constant travel we reached a grove. I’ll not describe it to you, but I know that should I need to I can find it, but you probably can not. There we meet others. I saw an initiate take the ordeal to try to become a Bard; he failed, and almost drowned in the process. Ceri said that soon enough it would be my turn.
I was given over to Hywel, a Bard. He was many years older then Ceri, and said he felt no calling to be an Ollave. We traveled all over Morgraine, and even through Barthunia a bit, and over the next seven years he taught me the harp, songs, tales, stagecraft, and other skills. Oh, and some magic too. Little stuff, like creating fire and light, the kinds of spells useful to a storyteller. I learned what our role was, to entertain, to educate, and to remember. I learned to remember. I always had a good memory, and could learn new things quickly (when I wanted to), but with Hywel’s guidance I leaned how to look and listen so that I could recall it years later. Remember so that I could teach the next generation the triumphs and mistakes of the previous ones, just as he was doing now.
We earned our keep by playing at inns, or for villagers in their homes. My people are generous, we didn’t have to play to be fed, but wanted to.
It didn’t seem like seven years had passed, but I recognized that the road we were on led to the grove. I stopped, a look of dread on my face. Hywel said “You are as ready as I can make you, go”. I went up to the Druids; Ceri was amongst their number now. I said I wanted to take the ordeal. Well, the ordeal lived up to the meaning of the word. That night, just like those who tried before me, I was placed in a stone casket filled with water. Heavy stones we placed upon my chest. As they closed the lid, Ceri told me to compose a poem on the recovery of the Tain. I spent the night trying to compose a poem on Muirgen’s use of poetry to magically summon Fergus from the Otherworld. But thoughts on how rhyme and meter, or chord and rhythm are similar to the words and gestures of a spell kept intruding into my efforts to compose. I thought it an interesting idea, but decided it needed more research. Oh, and I also spend much of the night trying to keep my nose above the water.
In the morning, the lid and weights were removed. I stood up, still in the casket, and recited my poem on Muirgen. I didn’t think it would be worthy. Over breakfast the Druids said that they liked my theory on the relationship between music and magic, and as a Bard I should continue to study it. Somehow I was judged fit. I was sixteen years old, and I was a Bard.
I traveled on my own. I went home for a while. I visited some of the places Hywel and I had been in years past. I went to the High King’s court in Arberth to visit my sister Elen. Sometimes I met others of my circle, or other circles. We would trade tales, poems, songs and spells. I noticed that all the stories seemed to be old. And seldom was there any reference to the world outside Morgraine.
When I was twenty I went to serve in a Morgrainian troop in Barthunia’s army. Through that service I earned myself a horse. At the Barthunian court I met up with a traveling wizard, Seline of Norcastle. She proudly wore the pointed cap of a master mage of the Biblioteca, with its black tassel and simple stripe of silver. Well, that’s how she described it, how was I to know otherwise? We taught each other some spells, we became, ahem? friends. It was almost seven years since I had left the grove, I knew it was time to go back. Seline too was moving on. She said she was heading back to the Biblioteca. I went back to Morgraine.
At the grove the Great Druid himself asked me and two others to take the ordeal to pass into the ranks of the Ollave. A Bard you see is a storyteller, a harper, an entertainer and a teacher. He can, if called upon, act as a judge. An Ollave is all that, and a priest. I did not. And to this day still do not feel the calling. I knew that one night or a dozen years sewn up inside the flesh of a bull would not give me divine inspiration. The others accepted his offer to take the ordeal. I declined. He seemed disturbed, angry, I’m not sure, Druids try to be difficult to understand. They were sewn up, and the rest of us waited for the dawn so we could hear their new-found truths. I spent some of the time that evening talking with some of the other Bards. We were, of course, swapping tales. At one point I said that it seemed kind of pointless to be passing the same old stories back and forth when there had to be many more in the world as a whole. I didn’t know that Ceri was near by. Druids can have awfully good hearing when they want to. A flash of anger crossed her face as she strode up to us. She said “you want to seek new stories, then so be it!” I didn’t let her finish, I saw her start the gestures that accompany the laying of a Geas. I picked up my bag and walked away.
I decided to travel north to see my friend Seline, the wizard at the great Biblioteca. I headed to the Great Road, and then on the road to Bindar. There I sold the horse and rented myself out as a caravan guard. I stayed with them as far as Ramsgate. Ramsgate, the mere mention of the name brings back many fond memories. I could have happily spent years exploring that huge city, but I promised myself that I would go to Landsrue. I took barges up the river through The Mead, Eaglereach and Kesch-Nisht; I have stories to tell of each, some other time.
Timing is the essence of comedy, even dark comedy. I arrived in Landsrue on the night of the Zombie attack. All of us on the barge got pushed and shoved to a priory of the local church. Since I knew some first aid, I got sent off to help the healer woman, Black Sue.