A Tale of Salt and Oak
When something goes wrong, the first thing I think is, it is Loki's fault. It saves a lot of time.
The bench was dedicated to no-one. Screwed to the floor, amidst an ashen road of marble. Opposite, the glazed-windows of a boutique shop-front. A line of parallel trees, planted in consolation; an unconvincing canopy, half-sheltering swathes of early-bird consumers and breakfastless commuters from the unseasonably harsh autumn sun.
Two males sit on its shaded slats. One glares out at life; eyes shifting impatiently from the trotting, ear-phoned thirty-somethings to the closed sign that hangs askew against the door. It is not due to open for another hour. The companion to his right twitches, and squints at the cerulean sky. Will you sit still?
Thats because you didnt dry off properly How many times do I have to tell you, you cant just shake dry when you take off your skin!?
Inside the wardrobe of a nearby Travelodge, two suspended seal skins stagnate on coat-hangers, a salted-pool dampening the wood beneath them.
The bustling city centre swells. The scent of brylcreem and brow-sweat fills the nostrils of the agitated bench-sitters. They gaze towards the milky gloss of the unlit store. Only fifty-yards away, yet as if a distant buoy, bobbing ever nearer to the horizon, threatening to drop behind the curvature of the Earth. Where are you, you bitch?! he thinks
Light blonde and pale skin, a pearl necklace. She dresses the hands of a vacant mannequin. The door opens with a ping and the males move swiftly inside. The store assistants nostrils fill with the putrid scent of a red-tide as the darker of the disguised beasts moves in behind her, close enough to whisper in her ear. A semi-human voice, the timbre of a snarling bear.
Do you like to swim? he says.
Mucmór had scouted out the mushrooms from within the crevices of a dying poplar. It was fleshy and umber in colour; the only one of its kind to grant him visions without a two day headache in exchange. Salt-wolves. he thought, processing the hallucination, Fascinating. He watched the seal-men drag their hostage in his minds eye, and allowed his hind legs to collapse behind him. He had been on his feet for quite some time and pigs were not known for trekking long distances, especially ones as large as him.
His brother Tetorc emerged from behind a juniper bush. He was much smaller than Mucmór and while Mucmór was endowed with a healthy pinkish hue, proudly decorated with large dark spots, Tetorc was covered from snout to tail in shimmering copper bristles; a coat to match his coarse wit and hot temper.
Dammit, Mucmór! The red boar scoffed in admonishment, Weve at least twenty leagues yet to travel and here you are resting with all the cares of a suckling.
I am a suckling of the Earth, dear brother the large pig retorted in a spray of grey foam and besides, my hunger for knowledge has borne fruit or fungus as least. Tetorcs eyes widened and he looked over his shoulder to make sure they were alone. Their master was not far behind and he could not be certain whether their conversation was forbidden of servants.
It seems Mucmór began, still entranced that two selkies came ashore to exact vengeance on the owner of a small business. They were selling clothing to humans made from seal-skin
The red boar nodded with understanding I can sympathise. After all, who has suffered more at the hands of man than pigs, over the past century? But why one merchant, why not tackle an entire vessel of sealers?
It was their sister, he answered, grinding another mushroom between his large yellowing molars. She had been captured by hunters. The selkies plucked the information from a seagull, a real squawker. Told them where and how her body had been used.
Tetorc shot his brother a gaze of concern and intrigue. He stepped a few feet closer in order to whisper. And did the goddess Rán permit such a flagrant abuse of her capture-rights?
Mucmór furrowed his brow and rolled his eyes into the back of his head for a moment before beginning to speak once more. The selkies swore not. They came by river. Shed their skins, and walked inland. They said Rán hadnt been doing anything about recent pollution or attacks on the oceans wildlife. They said she preferred to spend her time dancing in maelstroms and plaiting refracted light into her hair. But The large pig shook his head as if searching the air for more information when they drowned the store manager in the sea, Wodens ravens reported it as an offering to the goddess forcefully and deceptively taken.
Tetorc remembered what their master had once told them, that Ráns capture-rights only allowed her to capsize the vessels of sailors she believed to be of blackened heart and that she was known to usually keep to this code - though it had been noted how the ships belonging to black-hearted sailors were often the ones with the most treasure on board. It was little wonder that Woden, the mistrusting king of the gods, had banished Rán to the uttermost reaches of the world. To the poles of the north and the south.
He shared out control of her former domains among the remaining sea gods. Mucmór said, his focus now snapping back to meet his brother. His eyes, bloodshot ovals with irises of a brilliant ice blue. You know the rest, of course.
Tetorc nodded his head regretfully. Rán had set about destroying the fragile ice caps that punctuated the globe, rapidly raising the worlds waters till the lands of the earthen gods began to dwindle. The brothers had always known that Rán was responsible, but it was only now that they knew why. Along with the floods, she set great beasts, gigantic creatures from the crushing depths of the ocean, to guard these new water-locked realms but none were so important to Mucmór and Tetorcs master than Mur-Temna. Word had reached them via a network of trees their whispers transferred beneath the soil from oak to ash and birch to lime - of a bloated rubicund beast; an exsufflicate, perpetually enraged. It was a kraken, dwelling where once verdant fields had spanned and where a sea-roof now suffocated all green to murk and all soil to silt. The Dagda and his boars were heading to reclaim this once pleasant pasture.
>The Dagda was known as The Good God. In his corporeal form, he was a large, broad-chested man. A mound of auburn hair topped his head, and he bore a beard of the same shade, save a shock of white beneath his chin. His stomach was not flat - his mortal form was far too fond of bread and drinks brewed from threshed corn - but the protective suit he had donned, since he heard the war broke out, pulled his gut inwards, presenting a firm abdomen to match his timber-like arms. Gods could never die in the true sense, but a mortal body could be wounded beyond repair, and having to transpose ones metaphysical self into a new visible individual was a rigmarole he could scarcely be bothered with. A stab-proof vest and a few metallic adornments were a sensible precaution, he thought, in a time of automatic rifles and air-borne missiles. His weapon of choice had not changed over the millennia, however. A giant club of solid oak rested upon his shoulders, a subtle motif of silver leaves gilded into its base. In days gone by, people had told stories of its power; to both end and restore life, but it had been a long time since Dagda had extended the gift of life granted by the base of his club.
He leapt over a stream, and caught up to his rotund familiars. What are you two grunting about? Eating again I see, Mucmór.
Yes, master. the large pig snorted unapologetically.
Well, come, weve many more miles to travel. Weve managed to skirt around most of the checkpoints, but there is an unavoidable one at the crossing of Mur-Temna. We will eat and rest when we are close by.
The pigs nodded and carried on traversing the obstacles of the forest.
The war had been a great upset to the fragile balance of the world. Not only were Earth-based gods burdened with protecting the lands from Ráns sea-monsters, civil wars had broken out the world over. Half of each continent was nearly submerged. Crop-fields lay waterlogged and food became scarce as low-plained cities became the lairs of oblivious fish. Sharks swam down library corridors and barnacles clung to abandoned buses and aircraft. Reservoirs, once brimming with drinkable water, were now salty troughs in a sea of indifferent brine. The world and all its resources were ravished. Martial law ensued and tribal fortifications emerged, guarded by mostly untrained soldiers of fortune.
The checkpoint of Mur-Temna was not so much a checkpoint as a fortified village, the gates of which were solid steel, hinged within an expanse of pallid concrete and fringed with a helix of barbed wire. A whole manner of commandeered street signs littered the pathway to the doors: NO ENTRY; TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED; BEWARE OF THE DOG; ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK!
Well, thats confusing scoffed Tetorc as they approached. Can we enter or not? And there doesnt appear to be a dog in sight.
Dogs are too smart to stay in a place like this. offered Mucmór in an equally incredulous tone Humans on the other hand
Dagda smirked and moved a few paces ahead so they would not see. He did not want to encourage this sort of banter if they were to be taken seriously.
As they came within fifty yards of the gate, there was a sudden furore of shouting and a metallic racket of guns being cocked. A voice came from above the wall. Stand where you are, big man!
Dagda searched the top of the wall for the origin of the voice, and found a woman; ash-blonde hair in a harsh pony tail; body encased in a black jumpsuit and her right eye peering down the sight of an automatic rifle. A deafening silence fell about the place, broken only by the sound of Mucmór chewing noisily on some nearby berries - the soldiers wouldnt have expected a pig to heed their command anyway
Are those pigs? another voice called out. A man this time. Watchtower, to the right. Christ on a bike, Ive not seen a pig in years. And look at the size of the bleedin thing! That pink ones like a feckin bear!
Shut up, Sullivan the womans voice retorted, before bringing her attention back to Dagda. State your purpose. Who are you, why are you here?
My name is Oak Dagda answered, I hear you have been having some trouble with a giant octopus in these parts. Thought I might be of service to you.
The woman snorted The whole world has been having trouble with giant sea creatures! Sharks, crabs, octopuses. You name it, peop- Jesus, Ganley, Im not having this discussion again; octopuses is an acceptable term!
Shes right, you know. Mucmór whispered to his bristled brother. Tetorc didnt acknowledge him.
So, what makes an unarmed man, and his pigs, interested in our particular problem? You dont look like youre from around here. Why dont you turn back round and piss off back to where you came from?
A strange expression swept across Dagdas face; one the brothers had never seen before. It was offence. I used to live here, a long time ago. And I can assure you that I am as armed as I will ever need to be. he pointed his club up to the sky. It was an impressive sight from down on the ground, but it was clear that the gravitas was lost upon the inhabitants of the high wall. An eruption of laughter sounded and lasted a little too long to be genuine.
Ha! Hes gonna beat it to death with that thing? Good luck, pal. Red-headed lad, no older than nineteen.
Go on, Maeve! Let him in. We dont see many have-a-go-heroes these days. And Id pay to see the old beast swallow this fool up. You never know, he might be able to give him a bit of a twatting before the end. Worth a laugh I reckon.
The woman in charge looked to the man who had spoken, paused for a moment and lowered her gun. She faced Dagda and pointed her finger to the red-headed lad who had spoken. Donnell here once threw a grenade at the monster. Not a scratch. All eight disgusting limbs intact. It just made the thing more angry. That night it crawled out of its lair onto Drybank and it took our dogs away with it. Two years later and Donnell has only just finished his penance in the fort kitchens. I wont lie, we want rid of the thing, but keeping the prick contained and stopping it terrorising other nearby camps and forts is our one claim to success so far. Sets us apart from the likes of Culin at least, where everyone just up and ran leaving us to force back their giant dogfish. Isnt that right, lads? She broke off to allow for a chorus of Culin cunts and dogfish fuckers! to ensue.
I dont know what the fuck you think you can do that we cant. she continued But if you want to try and earn some personal glory by taking on the kraken with a jumped-up two-by-four, then fine, be our guest. Aye, might be a laugh, Sullivan.
Dagda smiled and gave a single nod of his head I live to spread joy, commander. At your wish, I will either slay the beast or attempt to die in the most amusing way possible.
Maeve looked pleased But, in case it all goes horribly wrong, and you just enrage the salt-bag further well, we dont have any more dogs left as you can see, and we cant afford to lose any more of our men or women. If you want to fight the beast of Mur-Temna, we need some collateral.
So, how are you finding life as a piece of collateral, Mucmór? Tetorc asked his fellow captive.
A little tight round the ankles truth be told, brother. The two pigs were in a small enclosed courtyard, chained by the hind legs to the wall and with nothing but a small bowl of water for sustenance. Im very hungry though, I have to admit.
Makes a change.
I dont know about you Mucmór continued but Im quite surprised he agreed to this quite so quickly.
Really? Tetorc retorted, Im surprised they even had to ask. Great fool. Were the only reason they let him in.
I dont follow. Mucmór replied.
Come on, you fat swine. For all your gifts of foresight, you cant see what a band of starving soldiers would possibly want with two pigs, especially one as large as yourself?
Mucmór did not appear to be listening all that intently. He took in the makeshift cell around them old stone walls, broken bits of MDF furniture, a narrow archway with an iron-railed gate for an entrance. They dont believe hes going to succeed. They think hes just some glory-hunting eejit. And we are their dinner for the next fortnight.
Mucmór looked nonplussed, Nah. he said, and nibbled where the cuff was chafing him. I have faith.
Faith? Mucmór, Im not saying that Dagda cannot defeat the creature. Im saying that by then it will be too late. The humans wont wait around for that. They will slit our throats as soon as Master sets off to battle the monster! Tetorcs expression was one of distress, and his bristles began to glow the colour of smelting steel.
No, not faith in the Dagda Mucmór smiled, his eyes rolling into the back of his head. Faith in you.
Dagda was led by Commander Maeve Bradley down a narrow alleyway of high concrete walls. A bald man he had not seen at the checkpoint entrance followed up the rear. They had allowed the good god to carry his club with them as they walked. They dont think Im quick enough Dagda thought to himself. The tip of the bald mans rifle rested mere inches from the small of his back. The god meant these soldiers no harm of course, but the insinuation that he was no faster than a point-blank bullet put another dent in his already stricken ego. There was once a time when people knew me. he thought, a golden age of love and awe.
After what seemed a mile of faceless alleyway, they reached a gate made from corrugated sheet metal. The commander unlocked the padlock attached and pushed the gate open, slowly; she seemed to be worried that something fragile stood behind it. The springs of its hinges creaked to capacity and the commander stepped through the gap.
It was as if she had opened a door to the sea. In every direction, water gently waved and the smell of salt on the air sent the Dagdas mind swimming with memories of walking coastlines, back when the Earth was still young. What was left of the land was next to nothing, only a bank of perhaps fifteen feet in diameter saved them from falling into this new edgeless lake.
This is as far as I can take you, Mr Oak. Maeve said to Dagda. Im happy for you to have a crack at it, but the final say goes to Corporal Lyons there. She nodded towards a man on the brink of the lake, sat in a wheelchair, a green and blue tartan wrapped around what remained of his legs. Dagda had barely even registered his presence till now; his mind had been full with images of beaks and tentacles, the last thing he expected to see was a wounded veteran gazing out at the water, still as a lighthouse.
Good luck, Oak said the commander, before grasping his forearm as if about to whisper. (She didnt whisper). But if you fuck up, you wont be coming back through this gate. Theres no running once you take on the kraken. Win, or you and your pigs will die. If you try to run, you will die, and your pigs will die. Im gonna be just up there she pointed towards the sky behind them, another fortified wall guarded by soldiers armed to the teeth with artillery and smirks. I will have my sight on you the whole time, big man. Dagda pulled his arm away and smiled with genuine warmth.
Tetorc took a deep breath and began to calm down. The heat of his bristles began to simmer and his burning heart slowed to a steady rhythm once more. The chain that bound him, however, glowed a faint red like the hob of a recently deactivated stove. Feeling better? his large counterpart asked. Tetorc nodded and sighed. Good, you need to save your strength, brother. Hes about to come.
Tetorc looked up at the entrance to their cell, Who is?
Footsteps echoed down the hall on the other side of the iron gate. From the shadows emerged a man of average height, perhaps thirty-five years in age. He held an old jailers key in one hand but held the other behind his back. He slowly entered the room. Hey there, fellas. he half whispered Shhh, were gonna be nice and calm about this, aye. We dont want to spoil your erm, spoil anything, so were gonna be quick and cool about this he spoke soothingly and stroked Mucmór on the head. He turned and stepped over towards Tetorc. In the reflection of Mucmórs eyes, he could see the butchering knife behind the mans back. Now, I dont like to do this, fellas, but weve got lots of hungry lads and lasses in this place, and Im the cook so He reached for Tetorcs chain. Aaarrrghhh! Fuck! Jesus Christ! His palm immediately flared into a large blistering sore. He dropped the knife to the floor and grabbed his wrist with his other hand. Noticing the bowl of water, he fell to his knees and plunged his hand in wrist-deep. He groaned a sigh of relief. But his reprieve was short-lived. As quick as lightning Tetorc sprang forward and thrust his tusk up into the right eye of the cook. The man let out a series of shrill screams, he thrashed and beat wildly against the boar as Tetorc bucked his head up and down, pushing his tusk deeper through the socket and into his brain. The mans screams became a garbled mumble, and Tetorc let him fall to the floor to bleed out his last.
Good work, brother. Mucmór exclaimed and with a powerful kick of his leg, pulled his chain and its link from the brick wall. Tetorc stared at his brother in bemusement, Could you have done that at any time?
Of course, the large swine replied flatly, but now the gates unlocked.
Dagda made his way over to the man in the wheelchair. Corporal Lyons, is it? I believe I am meant to speak with you, sir. My name is-
Oak, yes they told me. Oak. Hmm his eyes remained fixed as a distant stare across the lake. Is that an anglicised name, Oak? Its not an Irish word, is it? his voice was nasal and stern.
It is an English word, yes, like the tree.
Like the tree ah yes. Lobed leaves, acorns. I know it well, lad. Dagda wondered if he had ever been patronised before. He had half a mind to reveal his true identity; claw back some of the awe and worship he had received in the good old days. With one flick of the metaphorical wrist, he could turn his face to lightning and render them all speechless. But it was only half of his mind. The other half remained patient and his heart remained warm. Warm enough to humour an old man who had seen better days at least. Or so he had thought
I dont suppose youre old enough to remember The Troubles are you lad?
Oh, those were bad times, lad. Tribal in-fighting, thats all it was death for the utter shittin sake of it. Over Rome; over Britain. I was a soldier, but I didnt want any part in it. My job was to keep the peace. he shuffled the stump underneath his blanket, But we didnt have peace. Hell, we didnt even have civility. I dont remember which side threw the bomb at me. It doesnt fuckin matter, none of it does, its not important; it wasnt really important then when people thought it was, and its damn sure not important anymore. Do you get what Im saying, laddie? Dagda shot him a quizzical gaze. The man was clearly suffering, and he wanted to let him vent he was a good god after all but he was also growing impatient to start the job at hand and couldnt help but feel that he was being stalled.
The old corporals pale eyes began to flick across the water as if watching an invisible skimming stone. We have peace now though of a sort. When the seas rose and that monstrous dogfish began to terrorise the people of Culin, silly ideas like papal infallibility went out the window. Whether you thought you were Irish or British no longer mattered. All anyone cared about was the fact that there was a fish where there ought never have been a fish. That men, women and children were being swallowed whole when it dared to ride the waves inland. Oh, but we stopped it. All of us stopped it. Except the people from Culin of course, they all ran off, took as many supplies as they could and left us to it. My guess is theyre all dead now. Robbed at the next fort as like as not. You see? Peace isnt about pacifism, its not even about stability. Its about necessity. We fight and we kill, and we steal and we do what needs to be done. There is a balance in that, you see? None of this finding a reason to fight. Peace is fighting because you have to, and not fighting when theres no need. Thats the natural way of things, lad. We are closer to nature now than we have been for centuries. We have beasts like the one in this lake to thank for that. The kraken - the swallower of pointless death.
Dagda pondered all the old man had said for a moment. It almost sounds as if you dont want the beast to be killed, corporal.
Lyons finally looked up to meet Dagdas eyes. A couple of days worth of white stubble salted his chin and what was left of his hair had a slight blondish hue. His lips were dry and cracked.
Its about perspective, thats all. Shes a symbol. And you can draw a symbol without the symbol drawing breath.
Dagda nodded in agreement Thats true enough. He gazed out across the water and wondered whether he would have to go swimming to draw the beast out. Suddenly, the sand began to shift beneath his feet. The tiny bank they were stood on began to shrink around them and Lyonss chair edged closer to the water. Here she comes he said. The good god quickly reached out, grasping hold of the chairs left handle. It jolted and Lyons started to slide from his seat. He laughed, knowingly.
Good luck, Dagda. he said Give her one from me. and he fell sideways into the lake.
Did he just call me Da-
The kraken emerged from the lake, though Dagda could hardly believe it. If the lake had no edge it certainly had no bottom. It was truly gargantuan. Its head a terracotta bishops mitre, pitted with pores the size of moon craters, boat-sized barbed spikes running down its centre. Its arms surfaced next, thick as tree-trunks and shivering. Two of them flailed wildly, while the others reached back on themselves, forcing the rest of its body to emerge from the depths. The lake rained down around it, the droplets like waves crashing against rocks. It let loose another underwater shriek that shook the ground where Dagda was standing, and finally he saw its eyes. Lidless and golden, the colour of bile; two ultra-black pupils that appeared to physically suck at the light, each easily the size of the Dagda himself.
The god could hear shouts of encouragement from behind him, though he could not be certain who they were for He took a deep breath and swung his club clockwise from the ground, resting it on his right shoulder. He turned himself side-on to present a smaller target and waited for an advance from the beast. The attack took him by surprise; not a whipping of girthy tentacles, but a twenty foot wave, rushing in his direction. He tried to crouch and brace for the impact but it only engulfed him quicker; sweeping him off his feet and dragging him from the bank, deep into the lake. He desperately pulled at the water, dragging himself upwards to the surface. Herrrgh-pp! Air. He hadnt sunk too far after all. He turned in the water to face the beast, club still in hand. It plunged downwards, sinking with incredible speed and lacking all grace. Hes going to attack me from underneath the Dagda thought, but abruptly felt the weight of the water pulling him in an arc; forwards and downwards, following the path of the krakens submergence. Downwards and downwards. Deeper and deeper. All about him was dark. The water above him seemed no shallower than below, but in the murk beneath him he could just make out a jerking shadow. It came closer. It had edges. A moving rock? A beak! It was not the lake about him, but an encasement made of giant tentacles. He blindly beat at the fleshy walls surrounding him. With each strike, an arm would flinch away but be replaced by another in an instant. On land, Dagda could be quicker than this, but the water slowed his movements and dulled his powerful blows. The krakens arms pushed down above him, once again forcing him closer towards the razor-sharp abyss of its beak. Again he forced back, becoming increasingly aware of the growing feeling in his lungs, as if they too wanted to escape the confines of his chest and make a break for the surface on their own. Theres only one other option he thought, and relaxed his body. The kraken's arms yanked him down, towards the yawning chasm of its reeking maw. Dagda raised his mighty club above his head and using the rising momentum along with his enormous strength, struck the upper part of the krakens beak. The beast let out a banshee-like wail, its obsidian beak shattered and fragmented, pieces glided past the Dagda and narrowly missed wounding him in the process. The arms fell away and he could see light shimmering from above once more.
HOOOOOAAAAUUPPP! Dagda wasnt sure if hed ever breathed in so much air in one go. He quickly clambered back up onto the bank and coughed up the remainder of the water in his lungs. He heard a cry from the wall, Well, is it dead?! Dagda wearily shook his head in response. He got to his feet and looked skywards. He didnt have long; the beast would soon emerge again. He steadied his breathing, and raised his club into the air.
Oi! Why arent you dead? That thing dragged you under, how are you still breathing? Wheres Lyons? the god ignored the interrogation from behind, and waited.
The day was growing later and the sky darker with it. Small droplets of rain began to fall, moistening the Dagdas face which by now had dried from his underwater ordeal. Come on, you hag! he whispered to himself. He had held his club skywards for nearly half an hour now; his arm was beginning to tire, and the jibes and questioning from the fortified wall were also beginning to grow old.
The sound of thunder, except, no, it was the lake; bubbling and swirling and heaving; its waters a body of aquatic asthma. Once again the beast rose furiously out of the water, its whole body transforming from brick red to a fluorescent green, its eyes became darker and burned with rage.
More voices came from behind, Youve really pissed him off now, mate!
Shut it, Connolly! Cant you see this lads not normal? COME ON, BIG MAN!
Finally, some encouragement, thought Dagda. He looked up. Above the kraken, the clouds had grown fat and hung heavy in the sky. He gave the beast one final glare before letting out a boom of raucous laughter. The beast flinched, and before it could lunge forward in an attempt to crush Dagda beneath its immense weight, the god leapt high into the air, hovering mere feet above its face. In a voice like the crack of lightning, he yelled CERRCE!
The soldiers fell silent, dumbfounded by the scene before them. A bolt of lightning dived from the sky, striking the tip of Dagdas club. And with his club glowing like a pulsating blue star, the good god rammed the beast between the eyes. With an almighty bang, the kraken was launched backwards through the air, silent as death, and came to rest a smouldering heap in the middle of the lake.
BIG MAN! BIIIG MAAAN! BIIIIIIIG MAAAAAANNNNN!
Dagda turned to face his won-over audience, smiling warmly and trying hard to conceal the exhaustion he felt in his muscles. But the scene before him was puzzling. Their joyful leaps in the air were as if underwater. They leapt and sank slowly, as if time itself were submerged.
Good work, Oak.
That was Lyonss voice. Dagda thought. He spun round half-expecting a sodden one legged man in need of a hand. But there was no one. I knew youd be able to do it the voice came again. Dagda searched around him and noticed a large white bird scratching at the sand beneath him.
Come on, man. Youre a god. You act as if youve never seen another god before.
Dagda stuttered, I- I In his heyday, the Dagda had been accompanied by a band of many talented gods, but he had to admit it had been a while. Of course, but I dont understand what you were doing here disguised as an invalid. If youre a god, why didnt you take care of the beast yourself, were you not strong enough?
The seagulls right eye twitched. Well, it is true, brute force isnt exactly my forte, but my being here is more what you would call returning to the scene of the crime. You see, it was me
Dagda remained confused and this bothered him. He had once been hailed as a god of wisdom, but at this moment he felt as ignorant as a gnome.
Stop speaking in riddles!
The water. The floods. It was all me, right here. This is where the magic happened. the bird flew upwards rudely flapping its wings in Dagdas face. The good god swung for the bird, but it stealthily avoided the death-bringing tip of his club.
What do you mean, you did all of this? he shouted, What about Rán? The ice-caps
The bird rolled its eyes in a way that birds generally cant, Did your pigs not tell you? The fat one knows all about it he should really cut down on the mushrooms you know. The Dagda folded his arms. Ugh I was the one who told those selkies that their sister had become a pair of prized gloves in the city. Rán had nothing to do with it; she never sanctioned anything. They shouldve known better than to listen to a seagull. Gulls only go out to sea to die, and you should never trust a word that comes from the mouth of a dying bird.
Dagda shook his head, all this information was making his brain hurt, or maybe it was the effects of being held in time. He turned to see the soldiers still hovering in mid-air, expressions of glee carved into their faces.
Of course the bird continued, Rán melting the ice caps helped move
proceedings along quite considerably, and whats more, she proved to be
an effective scapegoat. But it is here where the majority of the flood
came from. Here in Mur-Temna, the lake that poured into the ocean.
I meant what I said, about peace. Okay, it might be a stretch to say we have it now, what with all the civil wars, vigilantes and this famine nuisance. But peace is something you have to struggle for and the struggle will soon come to an end thanks to you.
Dagda eyed him suspiciously. The bird had now transfigured into the shape of a man, almost without him noticing. Hair of deep green neatly retreated from his pale face, his eyes the colour of moss. A slender frame and a shit-eating grin.
What the fuck are you talking about? Dagda growled, he was swiftly losing patience and frustratedly stabbed his club into the sand by his feet.
Where have you been, Dagda? the green-haired god asked.
Where have you been? Sleeping in some land down south, for centuries. What took you so long to get here?
The sudden and accusatory question left Dagda aghast, I-I, only just heard, days ago! The trees told me!
And who do you think told the trees to wake you? You see, the world will recover from everything thats happened, and it will thrive better than ever before. The population has decreased; people have a respect for nature that hasnt been matched since the Stone Age. They have perspective, Dagda, and have learned from the mistakes they think they made. Ironic isnt it? Not a single Global Warming-denier left on the planet and it wasnt even Global Warming that did it. As soon as they have the land back the way it was, and fresh water becomes abundant again, Mankind will prosper with a deference that their former hubris never allowed them.
Dagda lowered himself to the ground, sitting on the bank with his club rested on his knees.
And what is my part in all this again, in your mind?
The green god looked even more pleased with himself if that were possible. This is where you were born isnt it? This is where you belong.
Dagda nodded Thats why I came.
There are structures in this world that hold its people to ransom. And you cannot change something so entrenched by conforming to it. Sometimes you need to break it He stepped closer and put his arm around the broad gods shoulders. He gestured out towards the lake, I broke the structures, Oak. I broke them by drowning the world. Now, I am leaving it to you to rebuild. For I am the god of mischief, and you are the good god.
This did not sit well with the Dagda, though he struggled internally with why. Do the ends justify the means; can any means be justified by a good end? He concluded that it was perhaps too soon to know, he had not yet seen the ends of which the facetious god had spoken.
Before he could respond, Dagda felt himself unexpectedly falling, hurtling forwards into the lake. At first he thought he had been shoved by the smirking sylph, but as his body rushed quicker and deeper into the water, he realised that the god was beside him, still grinning and plunging them both into the depths.
They reached the lakes floor. Dagda was not happy, to say the least; he had not long escaped this place and the giant beast that tried to keep him there, now he was being held here by a jester half his size.
The slender god motioned a silent plea for the Dagda to not be hasty and to see what he had to show him. Dagda reluctantly obliged and watched as the green god produced an orb of iridescent blue. It lit up the surrounding area to a hot azure, and sent the bottom dwellers of the lake fleeing past their legs. Between their feet was revealed a small hole, no wider than a plant pot. He opened his palm and motioned for Dagda to place his club inside. Dagda was resolved, he did not trust this god and his chest was once again beginning to hurt. How many times can a god nearly drown himself in one day? he thought. But from his hands, amber light began to shine. The gilded leaves on the hilt of his club had turned from silver to shimmering gold and the club resisted his grip. This was something the Dagda had never expected to happen; his club had never left his side and had always felt at home in his hands. He could not deny his beloved weapons own wish to be planted in the ground, nor could he deny the coincidence. He sighed an effervescent sigh and knelt down to place the hilt of the club in the hole. The green god pushed in the surrounding silt to bury the base of it, and it stood firmly and vertically of its own accord. Dagda shrugged and looked blankly through the mirk at the god opposite him, wondering what he and his favourite mace hoped to achieve by this. His companion just stood, grinning. And thats when it happened.
The earth and the water began to quake. Dagda took this as a bad sign. Am I so unwise as to be tricked twice? He tried desperately to retrieve his club so that he could resurface and not leave his most prized possession behind. But it would not move. As if it were rooted to the spot. Had it sprouted roots? Beneath his fingers the club began to swell and grow taller. He jumped back, but something moved under his feet. A branch? The Dagda was shunted upwards, his club expanding at a colossal rate, thrusting towards the surface, sprouting new thick branches as great lobed leaves the size of a man burst from enormous buds.
Air! They had resurfaced, but yet the club continued to grow, reaching for the clouds. The green-haired god hollered at the excitement of it all, and Dagda looked down. The waters swirled in a downward spiral, and the lake they had not two minutes ago been under was now no more than an insignificant pond.
Hu-ha! Shes a wee bit o a drinker, this one! the funny god exclaimed in the accent he had effected for Lyons.
I dont understand replied the good god perplexed, How did you know it would do that?
My name is Loki, good god. It means breaker. And when youve spent as long as I have breaking things, you start to learn a few tricks about fixing things too.
The tree finally breached the clouds and the Dagda saw that the sun had not yet set. Its rays sent an incandescent array of warm colours across the sky and the god was pleased to feel the radiance of its scarlet and goldenrod waves. It wont just stop here either Loki continued Your tree will carry on drinking. It will drink until all the lands the water has taken have been returned.
Dagda could not believe it. Not since the worlds creation had he seen sights of such magnitude. The tree was sublime in every sense of the word and he knew humans well enough to know that this would change everything. Maybe we will have peace after all. And the ends will justify the means. Maybe we have all been played as pawns in Lokis revolution, but who am I to complain? I am the luckiest pawn of all. Dagda breathed in the high air and dreamed of the praises that would soon be sung hand in hand around the base of his titanic oak. The time we shall have together. He turned to thank Loki, but he was already gone. White wings swooping in the ebb and flow of a mountain breeze.
Back on the ground the soldiers were left gawping at the unimaginably large tree that to their eyes had appeared from nowhere. They climbed down from the wall. The lake was gone and the large bounty hunter with it.
Commander Maeve Bradley turned to Donnell Get this out on the radio. As many frequencies as you can. People need to see this! Its its a feckin miracle!
Yes, Commander. The boy turned on his heel and ran back inside the fort.
He said his name was Oak
Two miles south of Mur-Temna, a large wiry boar gathered berries and beech-mast from the forest floor. His brother, an even larger paradigm of a pig, sat entranced beneath a swaying ash tree. He had seen the whole ordeal unfold from afar, the rocketing growth of the tree and the Dagda riding it like some obliging gulfweed on a gnarled tidal wave.
I suppose he did it, then. he called to his distracted brother, Master, I mean. That oak tree really is something. People will come from all around the world to see it. Hell be worshipped too, no doubt. Probably more than he ever was. Maybe we should have stuck around after all, Mucmór Eh, Mucmór
The large pig did not answer. Grey saliva dripped down his chin and, in his eyes, blazing fires grew as tall as trees beneath the wide-toothed grin of a green-haired man.
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Date and time of last update 11:09 Wed 14 Feb 2018
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