#NaNoWriMo Day 18: A Bit o' Craic
Craic: the catch-all phrase meaning amusement, merry mischief, lively atmosphere, delicious news, old jokes, brabbling and raillery; can be used without a definite article or with one, as a noun, an adjective, and even a verb. The Hallanys dance and music competition attracts all folks from around the kingdom who are looking for it, and all the dancers and musicians about for the event most happily supply it.
Happiness soon came, however; Alasdair changed the reel out for a slip jig, a different dance was begun, and the men were soon exchanging hands with the young women, those who were only too eager to smile and leap and say nothing. The men admired the dancers’ prowess, said a few insobrietous words to them, and when some had danced about in a few circles, they pushed others in their place and stood by, content again to be a spectator with drinks in their hands, lamenting that they “couldn’t fill a thimble with that” when seeing the size of their drinks at half full, urging any musicians sitting by to “give us a tinkle of the harp,” and “give us a wee bit o’ a beat,” on the drum. One of them, and old man, in his mildly bleezed state, asked the commander if she would not dance or play anything for them.
“Ye know us Frewyns, commander,” said he, with a modest shrug. “We all gotta do somethin’. ‘Tis in or clan blood. If we don’t dance, we play, and if we don’t play, we sing.”
“And if we don’t sing, we pretend to,” the commander laughed. “And I pretend very well, I assure you. I pretend to sing when my mate demands it and end up shaking down a few stones from the battlements.”
“Ye got a roarin’ voice on ye, commander. If ye can shout commands and take a welt o’ a plough, ye can belt a song or two across the fields, I’m tellin’ ye. ‘Mon, girl. Away ye go.”
The commander shook her head. “I should rather like to hear you sing instead.”
“Ach,” the old man chuffed, his pipe dangling from the corner of his mouth, the curls of smoke frothing from his lips. “Sure, my singin’ days are well over now. Haven’t sung a note in near forty year. But ye ain’t my age, commander. The drinkin’ and smokin’s done ruined me for singin’, for singin’ makes my throat dry somethin’ awful, and I’ve gotta have drink to wet it, and once its wet, I gotta have a pull o’ my pipe to warm it down. I’ve had my drink, and I have my pipe, and I’m ripe for a song, but,” shaking his head and looking forlorn, “faith, I haven’t got a song in me. Forty year bygone, and all the lyrics o’ every ballad I used to know’s come tumbling out of my head through my ears, and every melody on my tongue’s got lost in a drink. Sure, girl, you’d make an old man right happy again by singin’ him a song he’s forgot.”
The commander gave him a sagacious smile. “You would do better to ask your tankard for ‘the song what’s fell in it’,” she said, playfully catching the old man’s intonation. “My voice does little these days other than shout at wanton recruits and amuse the walls of the barracks.”
“Put it to good use, girl, and entertain an old man’s ear,” he treated, with a pining air
“Unfortunately for you, I am immune to Tyfferim guilt and cannot be persuaded, whether by truth or lies, to sing when I have no inclination to do so and even less talent for it.”
The old man scoffed, took a few pulls on his pipe, and shook his head. “Tyfferim girls. Ye hens make it a pastime to tramp all over a man’s heart, and my poor heart is awful soft anyway. I ask ye from the top and bottom o’ it, commander,” pointing to his chest. “Will ye ever sing us a song?”
“I think the king can be persuaded to give you one,” said the commander, smiling at Alasdair, who was eyeing Carrigh adoringly and beginning a new jig, “but while you might move the king of Frewyn with your endless supplications, you cannot move a farmer.”
“Aye,” said the old man, his countenance glow of fond reverie, “tied to the land, your feet rooted too well to be moved. Well, I see ye can’t be moved, and my heart’s sore for it,” here was a sly look at the commander, “but I’ll take the majesty, if he’ll be bothered. Sure I’ll have to wait a bit till his set is done. In the meantime, commander,” with an arch look, “will ye give us a story? I know ye tell a good one, all the farmfolk do. Ye on the land are tellin’ each other stories into the wee hours o’ the night and morn and morra, for what else is there for a farmer to do when the sun is down? You rest your hands and exercise your gob with a gab.” He puffed his pipe and narrowed his gaze. “Sure, ye’re as sharp as a slane. Away you go, girl, and say somethin’ clever.”
The old man frowned and glared at her in fierce expectation, and the commander smiled and sighed.
“I can tell no story worth hearing,” said she, with an amiable smile, “and I cannot tell you anything that you, with your grand preponderance of wisdom and elevated years, have not heard already, I assure you. Merely because I’m a woman of some education and moderate quality, everyone in the kingdom expects me to say something clever. I can only say something witty, which is hardly the same thing at all.”
She turned her head and indulged in wry smiles, and after a pause, the old man cackled, slapping his knee with one hand while holding his pipe with the other, wheepling and choking on his mirth, holding his sides and triumphing in high revel.
“Ye got the gift of the gob, girl,” said the old man, nestling his pipe back into the corner of his mouth. “Ye should tell stories.”
“Women tell stories all the time,” the commander declared. “They tell themselves tall tales every morning and nearly three times a day, depending upon how often they change clothes and fuss and flump over themselves. I am only honest, and no woman is a friend of honesty, and therefore, if I do tell stories, only half my audience should be amused and the other half be morally offended.”
“Aye, an honest woman riles a coop faster than a ravenin’ fox,” said the old man, with profound nods. “The tellin’ how it is don’t make friends in the hutch. Certainly will make ye a friend in the tavern and get ye the top seat. You’re a good riler, then. Give us a bit o’ craic and rile the hens. They’re on the men somethin’ terrible th’night. There’s no stoppin’ a hen at anythin’ when she’s after a dance. See how they’re eyein’ the lads what won’t take ‘em to the set? Tha’s the mallacht on ‘em. They’re gettin’ no dinner th’night, I’m tellin’ ye that. Sure, give an old man a bit o’ criac and rile the hens?”
“And what should I say to them that they haven’t heard this morning from their husbands?”
The old man’s eye sparkled with glee. “Here, girl. A lesson for ye. I’ll show ye how to rile the coop in a minute. “ He emptied his pipe, placed it into his pocket, and began patting himself down and looking confusedly about. “Oh, Borras!” he cried, “I lost me wallet! Will anybody ever help me find it?”
Every woman who was sitting by and watching the dance instantly began looking about, searching feverishly for any sign of copper coins or folded leather, hunting under chairs, around the hedges, under the dancers’ feet, and even under the tap counter. Nothing was found, however, and as nothing lost ever escapes woman’s notice, they began inquiring after whether he was certain that he had lost it. Was it perhaps in another pocket, or perhaps he had left it on the counter, or maybe he had left it in his seat, or did he give it to a friend for holding to keep him from spending all his money on drinks? The old man only looked solemn and moaned, claiming that he had it in his hand a moment ago and was sure it had gone missing. What did it look like, was it a black wallet, was it calf skin or pig hide, where did he think he left it? were all questions said in rapid succession, none of which augured much by way of an answer. Instead the women went in quest of a wallet which they had little hope of finding, talked on to themselves about how they should not know what they would do if they should ever lose their purses and pennybags, and began scrounging around on hands and knees, desperately trying to find wither the wallet had gone. Was it there, had anyone found it, had anyone seen it, had the men seen it, had he left it with the barman? but there was nothing that could give them a lead. The wallet was lost in the dark, leaving the women in a flutter of spirits, for how could so conspicuous a thing be so easily lost?
The old man, giggling fiendishly to himself, turned to the commander and says quietly, “Hens can’t help findin’ what’s lost, even if there’s nothin’ wanderin’.”
“You are too terrible,” the commander laughed, shaking her head. “You and my mate should get on famously.”
“Ye mean the big fella what ate all the chocolate before I could get to it? Bah! He’s a riler in the wrong way. He should be the fox what chases all the hens away from the taverns when the men are after havin’ a dram.”
“Perhaps if you would be so good as to share your secrets him in hen-pecking, he should follow your example oftener than he already does.”
“Can’t use that one too often. If I really wanna ruffle ‘em, I ask if any one of’ems got somethin’ I can borrow. Every hen in on the sward’ll be riflin her things to have it out first. Hens always gotta set the world to rights.”
“While all the men stand idly by and look unaffected and irresponsible,” said the commander, spying the men by the taps, who were leaning against the counter, observing the bounding girls and ignoring the women who were prostrated before them and still searching for the wallet that never was with an air of easy indifference.
Enjoyed the story? Enjoy Tales from Frewyn Volume Two!