The Good Day

Before the Dagda was king of the Irish fairies, he was a champion of Finvarra, who was king before him. The wars with the Fomorians went badly, so Finvarra sent the Dagda to find what help he could in other lands. The Dagda knew spells for taking the shapes of eagle, stag, bear, and oak, so he took the form of an eagle and flew off.

Since he lived in the north and west of the world, he flew south and east to search the rest of it. Now as eagle, now as man, he spied out forests and plains, camps and villages, looking for allies or magic or weapons or knowledge, whatever would help his people.

Flying over a forest, he spied shapes running through it. Human-sized creatures were hunting something of the same size. Flying lower, he saw it was men and animal-shapes chasing a woman. Wanting to understand more, he flew ahead on their path and turned into an oak tree, one more tree in a forest.

The hunters surrounded the woman at the very foot of the oak, and the Dagda saw that the hunters were, some of them, men with bronze-tipped spears. Others were wild boars, and some men dropped their spears and turned into boars.

One boar crowded in on the woman and prepared to rip her from belly to throat with his tusks. The Dagda felt that the woman boiled with magic, but also saw that she looked frightened. So, although it hurt, he used two of his branches to tear off a third and dropped it on the boar. His aim was good, for his own strength was in it, and it struck the boar butt-first on the head, killing it, or as good as.

The hunters did not draw back as common folk would have done, but cursed and growled and squealed, and pushed forward again. So the Dagda became a bear and, roaring, waded in among the boar-men, lashing with his claws. One bit his arm, so he bit its neck and his mouth filled with its blood.

In the blood, he tasted the changing-magic, and saw how it went, and so learned the spell. He turned himself into a boar and fought tusk to tusk, pushing the hunters back.

Meanwhile, the woman had picked up the oak branch. It smoked where she held it, and she brushed off the twigs, leaving a straight club with a good knob on the end where it had grown from the Dagda's trunk. When the boar-men recovered their courage and closed in again, she held the staff out to him and said, "Fight with this."

The Dagda became man, took the club, and fought well and bravely, but there were many boar-men. When he drove them back for a little space, he said to the woman, "Be ready to ride the stag," then turned into the stag. The woman jumped on his back and they ran off, faster even than angry boars.

She steered him by his antlers, and soon they came to a meadowed valley with low, forested mountains all around. In the center, three tall stones had been raised up, and in the center of the triangle grew an oak tree, even taller than the Dagda oak, but old and slowly withering.

The woman had him stop and got off him. "This place is Dodona," she told him. "I live here with my sisters, Lachesis and Atropos. My name is Clotho, and we are the Moirae. We used to do foretellings for Zeus."

The Dagda turned back into a man and stood panting after his long chase with a woman on his back. And not just the woman. She handed him the oak club. "Why did you take that?" he asked.

"You will not lose it," she said. "It is a good weapon, and it is your own limb." And one antler of the stag was broken off short, the bear was missing a claw, the man had a broken finger, and ever after the boar missed the point off one tusk.

He felt the magic in the club, mingled with his own life. "Thank you," he said. "That's a costly blessing you've put on it, mistress."

"It is a fair price."

"But you've spent strength that will be long in coming back."

"No matter. My sister Atropos tells us we will be gone from this world soon. I knew the swine would not kill me, but you saved me from such luck as would have made me eager to leave. Now you have given me cause to regret leaving, yet I thank you. Is that not strange?"

The Dagda agreed it was. "But if you foretell, did you not foresee the swine in the forest?"

"Each thing you foretell is something you cannot change. So you learn to do it sparingly."

"And you did this for Zeus? Who is Zeus?"

She sighed. "Zeus was king of the old gods. He is dead. Many ages back, he and his battled Typhon, the last great monster. They slew Typhon, but not before he tore out the sinews of their strength. They have ailed ever since, the strongest the worst."

She sighed again and spoke mostly to herself: "The war in Troy and the generation after: that was the last time they could even pretend to health. Then Zeus died, and next Poseidon. Hades lasted long, and we thought maybe his mastery of death saved him, but in the end he died in his sleep. Now all the children of Cronos are dead. The death-mark is on the grandchildren, too, but not all admit it. Instead, they squabble over succession. Apollo and Heracles both claim the kingship. Ares did, but he has since died in battle. There is one calling himself 'Zeus II,' with no tale to his name, or not yet. Those were-swine are his."

"And which will win?"

Clotho smiled as a cloud covered the Sun. "That is one thing we will not foresee. I would see Athena take the throne, but she is too wise to seek it. She says she will make conquests in other ways. I would wish her well, if I dealt in wishes."

She turned to him. "Give me your hand," she said, and when he did she healed his finger, then healed the bite on his arm he had taken as a bear. "What are you called?" she asked.

"Darach, 'Oak,'" he answered, "but I am also called the Dagda, 'the good day,' because my father says it was a good day when I was born."

"Your father sees far, or deep. It was a good day for me when you were born, as we saw in the forest. Now, I have more to give you." She pointed into the mountains. "Fly that way until you see a battle, and you will have good fortune."

"Are you safe here?"

"This is my own place, for a while yet. I am safe. Go, and make it a good day."

He became an eagle and took off. The club was light in his claws.

As he flew, the mountains became higher, sharper, barer. After a while, the Dagda heard roaring and yells, and saw the battle. Up on a cliff was a fort, small but made of huge stones. At the foot was the enemy host. The Dagda studied them with his eagle sight: most were men, but some had the heads of boars or wolves, and boars and wolves mingled among them. He saw some shift up on two legs, to take up bows and fire at the fort.

In the fort he saw men, but mingled among them folk with the heads of wolves and boars and bulls. As he studied the battle, two creatures came flying up from the fort. They were a man and woman, both young and slender. They carried bows and wore light breastplates and helmets, long hair, and wings. He was gold-haired, she dark.

"Declare yourself," called the winged man.

"I am the Dagda. I was sent here by–" With eagle sight, he saw an arrow lift toward them, pushed high by magic. He twisted in the air and, with the club, batted it aside. "–by Clotho of the Moirae. She said I would have good fortune here. But I wonder."

The winged folk laughed. "They fear you are a friend of ours," said the woman.

"I am no friend of theirs, now."

"They fight for the one who calls himself the new Zeus," said the woman. "I am Calaeno and this is Calaïs. We are children of the winds."

"We fight for Heracles," the man said.

"I begin to dislike this new Zeus," said the Dagda. "May I meet your Heracles? I am no enemy."

"You at least bring news from outside our siege," said Calaeno, "and that is good. Come down, then, as a guest and under our hospitality."

They went down with him to the fort. Most of the defenders could only shout defiance at the besiegers, and most of them could only shout back. But just as the attackers sometimes shot magically strengthened arrows, so the defenders shot back. They used curious bronze bows and shot only pebbles and small stones, but these flew deadly fast, and the Dagda could feel the magic working in the bows.

Among them moved a huge man, simply throwing rocks down at the enemy. But the rocks were big and flew as straight and fast as arrows. "That is Heracles," said Calaïs.

They landed and the Dagda became a man. He saw a battle-fury was on Heracles, so he, like all else, stayed well back. Finally, there were no more loose rocks and the fury left him. Only then did the children of the winds come forward and introduce the Dagda. He told his story to Heracles.

"Will you join our fight?" Heracles asked. He panted and trembled and was pale, and the Dagda thought there was more than weariness from the battle fury on him.

"I am on an errand for my own king," the Dagda answered. "And I will pass on if you wish, but I am no friend to your enemies."

"You may rest here," said Heracles, "but rest and a drink of water is all we can offer. The siege is starving us."

"That is hard," said the Dagda. He looked around at the warriors in their different shapes. "What will happen to them?"

"They are mortal," said Heracles. "They will die a bad death, and go into the dark with even less surety than they had when Hades ruled it. But maybe the siege will end. Until then, this is what they have." He pulled a lump out of his pouch, the size of a man's fist. It looked like crystallized honey. "Ambrosia," he said. "The food of the gods, the last of it. A lick of it will heal wounds or keep a man going all day, and a lick is all I allow."

"What do you allow yourself?" asked the Dagda.

"Nothing. It is a score of days and more since I ate. I am not so mortal as to die by starving. I once thought I was immortal, but since my father died, I no longer think so. And you? I do not have Clotho's sight, but I can tell you are not of my family's kind. You are more akin to the nymphs and kuretes."

"We call our kind the sidhe, and my clan is the Tuatha de Danaan. We are immortal. We heal from any wounding, though it costs time and pain." Then he felt ashamed, to have boasted before the suffering.

But Heracles only said, "I am just the captain here. You should meet our general. She needs to hear your tale. She craves knowledge more than meat."

He led the Dagda into the keep of the little fort. It was a single room and held only a great bronze cauldron on a fire without wood. The fire was tended by a man, burly but smaller than Heracles, who walked about the cauldron limping with a cane. He stared curiously at the Dagda, who smelled from him the same tang of magic as drove the bows. "Our weapon smith, Hephaistos," said Heracles. "He made the cauldron, too, from shields of the fallen, and set that fire spell in it." Hephaistos nodded to the Dagda.

Then a tall woman in gray robes entered. "I am Athena," she told him, and asked to hear his tale. The Dagda told it, and answered all the many questions she asked him, but his eyes and thought kept running to the cauldron. The sight of it, and his boast, and his pity for the starving warriors were coming together in his mind.

"What do you brew in the cauldron?" he asked her when she was done.

"My owls have brought in some rabbits and a few herbs. We have a good stream coming down the mountain, too, for water. I will make a bit of stew for our folk."

The word "stew" finished the idea for him. It needed only bravery to complete.

"Lady and Lords," he said, "I can feed your people, but you must trust me with your ambrosia, and I must trust to my idea. Take the ambrosia lump and break it in three pieces. Keep one for yourself, as before. Put another in the cauldron. Spare the third part for me. I will turn into a boar. Hew my legs off with a sword, and my back and belly, and put them in the cauldron to stew. With the ambrosia, the meat will keep healing and growing for a long time. Give me the third piece so that I can heal quickly. As I said, I could heal, even from butchery like that, but it would take long, perhaps generations. I am on an errand for my people; I should not waste time. And I admit, I want this trial behind me soon."

Athena, Hephaistos, and Heracles stared at the Dagda, amazed. Then Heracles looked to Athena, who nodded. Plop! went a piece of ambrosia into the cauldron.

Quickly, while courage lasted, the Dagda closed his eyes and turned into a boar. Quickly, Heracles took a sword and butchered the boar. In the pain and the fear and the darkness, the boar felt strong, smooth hands put something sweet in his mouth and heard Athena's voice say, "Turn back."

He turned back and was a man and whole again. He looked around. There was blood on the stones at his feet, but a savory smell came out of the cauldron. People began coming in to see where the good smell came from. Athena and her captains smiled.

But Athena said, "I hope no one will refuse the meat when they learn the source."

The Dagda shrugged. "Do not tell them," he said. "But if they learn, tell them this: I swear by my life and my hope and my power that I claim no hold on anyone through the meat of that cauldron. I give it freely. Tell them that."

Then Hephaistos said to Athena, "You should weave him into your plan," and she nodded.

She led the Dagda out of the keep and up a narrow stair cut into the rock. It led up to a cliff edge, a stair into the sky. "There is a passage at the top," she told him. "Do you understand me?"

"Yes, lady. In my country, we have such passages too, leading to the Otherworlds, though the entrances lie inside our hills."

"We guard this one. That is what the siege is about. If I had a good piece of my old power, I would move the passage, then move all of us after it. But I do not.

"When Zeus died, he left behind a shell or husk of his power, the mantle of his godhood, you could say. So did all the others. So shall I."

"Are they for Heracles to inherit?" the Dagda asked.

"No. He thought so once, but he feels himself dying, too, and he now knows he cannot take on more of their power than he received when Zeus took him up to Olympus. Instead, he has given his help to me. I seek to give out these powers as best as may be. This new Zeus is not a proper one for such a gift. But you are.

"Go up that stair and through the passage. Examine what you find there and take what you think good. But hear these two things:

"Do not take more than you can handle, or, immortal or not, you may injure yourself in a way that will never heal.

"And, what you will see there is a dream and a lie, because such things cannot truly appear. Remember that, but do not think that means the appearances are unimportant or misleading. Everything that is must seem."

"You are exceedingly generous, lady, but I wish I could borrow some of your wisdom now."

"You have your own, but you have my blessing for what that is worth."

The Dagda went up the stair, found the passage, and stepped through it, vanishing into the sky. He found himself on a stony floor amid mountain peaks, under a deep blue sky without cloud or sun or stars. The floor was ringed with thrones of stone. On most lay sheets of silk in brilliant colors, but torn and ragged at the edges.

The largest throne, opposite where the passage entered, was draped in blue. The Dagda went up to it and, since he had been invited to take if he thought good, touched the silk.

He caught his breath and laughed. He breathed deep and stood taller. Though he was naked and stained with blood, he felt he was robed in splendor. Though he was fresh from mortal wounds, he felt like dancing. Here was boundless strength and joy, ready for anything.

But that was an illusion. Look what had happened to the previous owner.

Then the thread cut into his hands, making them bleed. He remembered Athena's warning. If he took more of the blue thread, he decided, he might harm himself, and that forever—always bleeding, or if not that, forever weak, unable to hold in all that the blue thread meant. He tried to put it down, but could not. Instead, the thread sank into his hands, out of sight. But the pain and bleeding stopped, and the feel of dancing stayed with him, and was good.

For a moment, he had a waking dream. He saw Clotho spinning with a drop spindle. The thread was plain white wool, but she gathered up a handful of fine blue silk, and spun it into the plain thread.

The Dagda looked around, wondering if he should go. Then another robe on another throne caught his eye, a great sheet of gold. He went up to it and touched it on the ragged hem.

He smiled. Here was strength of another kind, steady, unending (except it had ended for the last wearer). It calmed his mind, and in that calm he looked back on the day, on all his journey, on all the centuries of his life so far. Then he felt a steady beat and knew if for the beat of days and years, and saw how he could command that rhythm, speed it up or slow it down. He might even be able to look ahead on that march and see what was coming.

But this time he remembered Clotho's warning about foretelling. He found he had gathered up some of the golden thread, but it was burning his hands. He stopped, but once again what he had gathered sank into his skin.

Again, he saw Clotho spinning. This time she worked a golden thread into the skein, so that now it flashed gold and blue.

Motion caught his eye, the first motion he had seen here other than his own. Next to the throne draped in gold stood a smaller, slender throne, draped in a silvery robe. It fluttered even though the breeze was slight, reflecting the surroundings like a liquid mirror. Like the blue robe, it made him feel like dancing, but faster, skipping and playful rather than grand. Like the golden robe, it made him seem to see things, but tricks and secrets rather than far visions. He felt there was nothing he could not unriddle, no problem he could not solve, no obstacle he could not evade.

He had picked up the threads of silver without even realizing it. They made his hands ache, as if there were poison in the gauze. Again he tried to drop it, again some soaked into his flesh, and again he saw Clotho spinning. Now the thread she spun flashed silver, gold, and blue.

He blinked and looked around. What now? There stood a throne of dark stone, draped with red. He approached, but paused. Could he not find out the quality of this mantle without taking it on forever? He leaned forward and, not touching, sniffed.

Heat came up with the odor, like the smell of a forge, like hot iron. It excited. He felt there was nothing he could not dare, nothing he could not endure. No, there was no surety of winning, but there was surety of trying. He looked down and saw his hands were reaching out of themselves. He paused again.

He thought of the thread Clotho spun, flashing now with blue and gold and liquid silver. Very beautiful, but, he realized, not much of the original plain white still showed. Just a dream, even a daydream. But even these thrones and robes were dreams, or like them, not glamour but not what they seemed either. Athena had told him these appearances were not unimportant, not misleading.

He looked around at the mantles on the other thrones—black and white, green and brown, gray and purple. What manner of folk had left them? The golden thread told him that these mantles were like shadows, shells, molted feathers, the merest edges of their natures. But the scraps and ravelings off three of them were all he could take. More would leave him lost in the storming qualities.

So, enough.

He looked around carefully, found the passage he had come through, and returned.

Athena watched him as he came down the stairs. He did not know how he moved, if he danced or marched or skipped. He thought he must look very silly, but he did not care, and Athena nodded. "You chose robes that fit you well," she said.

"I did not dare take a whole robe, lady," he said. "Just a few strands."

"Nonetheless, what you picked suits you."

He smiled and bowed.

The keep was full. The folk had fallen silent when he entered, but now they started talking louder than ever. All were gathered around the cauldron, taking their shares in bowls, mugs, helmets, boots, anything that would hold stew.

The Dagda smiled again and walked up to the cauldron. People made way for him. He placed his hands on the hot metal. With the cunning of the silver thread, he rewove the magic in it, adding the generosity and strength of the blue and golden threads. "It will always hold plenty," he told Athena, who had watched him work.

"The feast is as immortal as yourself," she said, "and that for a good reason."

"How long have I been gone?" he asked. "How goes the siege?"

"There is no change of time through the passage," Athena answered. "You have been gone an hour or so. And our foe cannot now win the siege, thanks to you."

“Good. Can you?”

“Not yet. You have given us time, and maybe I can build up enough power to move that passage.”

“You must hope,” said the Dagda, “that the enemy do not bring help. Giants or storm-magic or the like.”

“That is so. I may craft a careful question for the Moirae and send one of the children of the wind with it, so as to prepare for their next move.”

“Does this new Zeus have any flying servants?”

“Yes. Sending a message to the Moirae would risk the messenger and weaken our guard in the air.” Athena looked at him carefully, as if she guessed at the new ideas that bubbled in his mind.

“How if it was you who got the help?” he asked.

“Certainly that would be good. What kind of help?”

“How if snow and storm came down from the mountains suddenly and hit only the enemy, not you?”

She smiled. “It would be like seeing my father’s arm in battle again. If it went on long enough, perhaps I could gather enough power.”

The Dagda nodded. “You have given me a great gift in return for a pot of stew, even such a pot as that. I don’t think we are done trading yet.”

He took his club and started up the mountainside, not on the stairs but on the bare rock. He found a place where there was a little patch of soil and plunged in the club. As he held it, it grew leaves and branches. One branch grew out and up in a great curve. He broke this off and sat molding it for a while.

He brought down a harp strung with golden threads that gleamed blue and silver in places. "Now!" he said, and began to play.

The notes were high and light, but the melody sounded sly, tricky, as if birds and breezes plotted disaster. Soon enough, clouds rolled over the mountain top, a storm broke, water loosed the stones, and a landslide charged down on the enemy. But all to the right hand of the fort.

Yells and clash of weapons came from below at first, but then foemen could be seen racing away, into the woods. If they did not flee, they were lost in the cloud and turmoil.

Then the Dagda changed his melody. It was peaceful, almost a lullaby, and repeated over and over. No shouts came from below, and even the dust of the landslide hung in the air like still summer clouds.

"Now, lady," said the Dagda as he played, "rest and take something to eat. I am giving you time. You too, captains."

"I do not need food," she reminded him, while staring over into the vale, wondering.

"Not need," the Dagda admitted, "but you must use some part of your strength to keep that form going. Spare yourself that. Sit, eat, and tell me your troubles to relieve your heart. Everyone else has eaten."

Heracles and Hephaistos did not wait, but took bowls, filled them, and sat. But they did not speak, watching Athena instead.

Athena sat and ate for a while, then began: "Our troubles run all through our history, but I do not know that history clearly. We are a quarrelsome family, and each generation passed down little truth to the next, leaving them to fend and discover for themselves."

She waved her hand upward. "Above the air is a realm of invisible fire, inhabited by daimons. Beyond that, behind the sky and all appearances are Powers. Sometimes they act in the world, but seldom directly. They raised up my family among the daimons and wove into each of us threads of their own strength, each of different qualities.

"How my family were supposed to run the world, I do not know. Instead, they quarreled with one another and with the other creatures. At length, we held this part of the world, but with enemies on every side—storm and fire giants to the north, animal powers to the south, dragons to the east. Only your lands, the empty lands to the west, were quiet then.

"Between the wars and after the wars, we ruled, setting up cities for our kin the daimons, whom we taught to live on the earth, and for tame mortals. You fays, with the wild mortals and some folk of the animal powers, wandered in the wilderness; except for the nymphs and kuretes we took in service, we let you wild folk be and you let us be, and that was good.

"Then the last war came on us from the least likely quarter, the western dragons. They must have prepared for ages. They raised up Typhon. He was a dragon to begin with, I suppose, but added to and enchanted and spun through with stolen threads of such mantles as you took, taken from the eldest fallen gods—I think, perhaps with their collusion. In the end, he was more spirit than beast, more beast than person.

"We won, you could say. Typhon is dead, and, before he died, more completely destroyed than any soul I have seen pass into the dark. The western dragons are downfallen, few in number, cursed to become fewer, seldom able to speak or think, dying without issue.

"But we lost too. We only lost more slowly. You beheld our powers as threads of qualities, woven into great mantles of godhood. The war was one of threads against threads, each side joining all their strengths together. The dragons put almost everything into Typhon. We killed him but he poisoned us, tore out the tendons of our strength. It was long before we knew we were dying, but we know it now.

"Zeus died straight from Typhon's venom, even if he lingered." Though he never stopped the round of the lullaby, the Dagda watched as Hephaistos gestured at the side of the cauldron. Something formed in the reflections on the side: a serpent, sliding through a mountain range, as big as the mountains. It reared and spat black venom on a man, mountain high, who threw gouts of blue fire into the serpent mouth. It shuddered, writhed, and died. The man turned away, staggered nine or ten steps, then fell and was still. The Dagda remembered Athena's words about a war of pure qualities and decided Hephaistos' images were dream or symbol. After all, Clotho had said Zeus took generations to die.

Athena had spoken sadly but steadily, but now she shuddered. "When he died– His body– He had taken so many forms: a man, a bull, a swan, a pillar of fire, a shower of sunlit rain, so often just lightning. At the end... Why? His body dissolved into ants, a vast swarm of ants. Why?" Hephaistos lowered his head and his hands. The reflections showed nothing.

"We thought we were immortal. We thought our powers made us deathless. After Zeus, we knew otherwise, and so did our enemies. The dragons were gone, but there were the giants in the north, our hateful kin. They came.

"Poseidon felt himself ailing. While strength lasted, he rode against the giants." Hephaistos gestured again. In the reflections, the Dagda saw a great white horse leap out of the sea. A man with a three-pointed spear jumped on its back and rode up against three giants, tree-tall women composed of snakes. The vision dimmed. "He won. He died.

"Ares and Hermes did the same." Two men, cloaked in silver and red, fought with spears and swords against a wolf that kept changing size, now big as a horse, now big as a hill. They changed with it. It savaged them. "It took two tries..." said Athena, and the Dagda saw the two men talking earnestly around a fire. Silver-cloak had a bloody bandage over one eye. Red-cloak's right arm ended in a rag-wrapped stump. Then the two of them were at the wolf again, only it was smaller, tired, as were they. "...but they did the same. Won and died.

"The giants retreated. (But I would not ignore them, fay-man. They are not far from your home.) So we had won, in a way. But we were still sickening. Hades tried to cure himself. We thought he might know how, if anyone did." The reflections showed a man and a woman in a glade, clad in black, their faces somber. "He said he would sleep, rest, and return refreshed in the spring." The man raised his arms and became a hemlock tree. Many branches were bare. "But he never woke." The picture shifted. The glade had late patches of snow in it. The woman in black knelt, weeping, at the foot of the leafless tree.

"Persephone went mad, dancing and raving and casting death. When any of the daimons of their court tried to soothe her or stop her, she turned them into flowers or snakes, or just killed them." The woman whirled through night, eyes flashing. She wore necklaces of serpents and blossoms and skulls. "I hope she is dead by now. I think she must be."

Athena looked up and sighed. Hephaistos lowered his hands and let the pictures vanish. "A few of us remain. Apollo is out there, seeking to cure himself. And seeking our father's mantle. Busy man. Busy running, too, since a wolf-giant has sworn to track him down and eat him. We shall see."

The Dagda went on playing. "I hope to die a quiet death," Athena said. "But first, and more importantly, I hope to do a little good. Such as I hope I did you."

The Dagda played on. "Giving away threads of your family's mantles? Certainly it did me good, lady."

She nodded. "I have some ideas. And now I think we can escape and act on them. Go north, I think, and raise up some powers against the giants, to keep them busy. Go south. The animal folk of the desert allied with us, at the end, against Typhon. They are fairly decent. I should reward that. Maybe seek out the southern and eastern dragons; they were very different from the western." Then she fell silent and stared at the flames.

"Can your kind truly sleep, lady?" the Dagda asked. "Then sleep and grow strong. You and the two lords. All of you."

He played on and played on. After a while, the folk around him marveled that he continued so long. Then they marveled that the clouds below the fort never moved, nor did the sun. All ate and rested, several times. He played on.

The foemen below, running through the forest or blundering out of the landslide, never noticed the long rest. They noticed, instead, the monster that dived down from the fort. It stooped hawkwise on great wings, landed, and began laying about with a great club. It stood like a man, but was furred and clawed like a bear. It had a head like a boar and antlers like a stag. It used horn and tusk, claw and club, and it flew everywhere as lightly as a dragonfly. And all the time, it laughed like a young man.

They fled and never saw when the fort was emptied.

Some years later, in Ireland, the Dagda sat on the low, green hill that was his home, the club beside him as always, the harp ready to his hand. His folk were gathered around him, gossiping and singing. It was an easy summer day at court.

A man came limping up to him. It was Hephaistos, still strong but moving slowly, with his limp and a heavy pack of tools on his back. He bowed to the Dagda and said, "My lady returns this to you. She and her folk no longer need it, but you, we know, can make use of it." He handed the Dagda a little bronze trinket the size of an acorn.

The Dagda smiled, set it on the ground, and pulled apart his hands. The little bronze acorn grew and became the cauldron, already full and steaming. He waved his folk over and told Hephaistos, "Sit, be welcome, and tell me your tale."

With a sigh, Hephaistos sat at the Dagda's feet. "The Second Zeus won. Or at least, he now holds Olympus, though he found it bare of mantles. He and his court take the names and claim the powers as best they can. I do not see him lasting long.

"Apollo still contests the new Zeus, but lately he has retreated north, followed by that wolf. My lady went north, too, and south and east. Her plan of building up the best of the new gods came to little. We were late to the spoils; those ragged mantles had already been plucked by the folk we found, save the animal powers in the southern desert. Those she rewarded, as she told you. For the rest, they had already taken as much as they could weave into their own souls. As much or more. Not all were as wise as you, Dagda. Some of the new gods are mad. Good that they are weaker than the old ones." He paused to see if his host would take offense at being called weak, but the Dagda only nodded.

"Perhaps they raided derelict Olympus," Hephaistos mused. "Perhaps they robbed the ailing Old Gods, or made trades with them. Perhaps other Old Gods had their own plans of buidling up allies. She is taking the remains of the mantles through a passage beyond the sky, with no plan but to be wise. Perhaps she will trade them for a quiet place to die. Perhaps she will simply destroy them. Please do not ask me her path."

"No more I will. And what of Clotho and her sisters?"

"They go with her."

"And Heracles?"

"He died in the east, fighting monsters."

"And what of you?"

The old god sighed. "Sir, I do not know. I am weary. May I rest here while I decide?"

"You may rest or you may stay, as you choose." The Dagda looked around at his gathered court. "Ladies and lords, this is Hephaistos of the Old Gods. He is my guest and free of this court."

"Thank you, sir," said Hephaistos. "But though I came from the Old Gods, I was never of their kind. More honest, I think, to use one of the names I took on my journey here. You and your folk may have heard of me already as Weyland the Smith."

"Then you shall be Weyland among us. And he brings us a great gift," the Dagda announced to the court, "which he had a hand in making: this cauldron is ever full and no one need come away from it unsatisfied."

And that is how the Dagda got his three great treasures of harp and club and cauldron, and, what is more, the threefold strength to be king of the Tuatha de Danaan.


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Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2019