Story for the Day: Fhilibh the Miner
The workmen are the unsung heroes of many kingdoms, but in Frewyn and Marridon, they are the fabric of a gingham which keeps countries together. One such creature among these is Fhilibh, master of the Glaoustre mine. Hardy, convivial, unaffected, and hardworking, he is the quintessential working man, once whom everyone likes to see but whom many would rather not hear.
Their brothers were not in the Seadh Maith, as they soon found out. It was rife with all the usual Tyfferim accumulation: vulgar farmers clinging to their pints, nattering old woman attacking spun wool with their knitters, the single men looming over the bar, a few young couples locked in apparent redemancy at the tables in the far corner, gaggles of young woman giggling amongst themselves, a few younger patrons indulging in buttered bread pudding and trying to achieve the best indigestion, a few musicians sat round the fire, and a few old men furnishing the mantelpiece and garlanding the fiddle player on either side to accomplish a better look at his fingers as he played—the galaday and intimacy of the rural retreat boasting all the pleasance of a retired and jovial life, of hardworking men and convivial woman, of riotous children and sated elders, all of whom rejoicing in the last intimation of the holiday in preparation for the morrow’s work. Breigh’s height and presence, which obscured Cabhrin as they stood on the threshold, gave him reign of the room, and before the waitress could offer them a seat, Breigh descried two chairs in the far corner near the fire begging to be occupied, tucked away from any sibilation and noise and well near the musicians and their mantling admirers.
“In the back there,” Breigh indicated, and they made their way through along the path of winding tables and extended chairs.
He nodding in acknowledgement to everyone whom he passed, whilst Cabhrin followed close behind him, doing well to screen himself from prying eyes and general curiosity. Whispers of, “Ain’t those the two middle Donnegals?” and “Sure haven’t seen ‘em in an age,” met his ear, inquiring looks and craning necks furnished their procession, but they claimed their chairs and sat down, wreathing the edge of the ingle, their table on one side of the hearth, and the musicians on the other. It was an excellent spot, the corner affording them a joyous prospect, the bustle and clamour of the front hall and all its demesnes under their auspices. A raised hand brought a waitress to them, and Cabhrin and Breigh had full command of the hall, the table at the far end raising their pints in propination, the single women wasting amorous sighs over the fiddler, and the older woman smiling in their general direction, probably knowing from Calleen that both Breigh and Cabhrin were yet unmarried.
Two pints were put on the table, and Breigh raised his glass to his brother before indulging in his first draught, and Cabhrin sat in solemn mortification, feeling himself to be the object of the room, for every older head than his was spying him with speaking interest. He had a moment’s agitation to suffer in thinking that word of their visit to the tavern might get round and bring Aiden and Adaoire hither, fears which dampened his enjoyment of his drink. More alarming than his private anxieties was the sudden shouting of someone from across the hall.
“Hullo, there!” the voice articulated over the fremescent din of the front room. “Hullo!”
Cabhrin’s shoulders tense and he shrunk in his seat. It did not sound like anything his brothers might say, and the tone and accent were so unlike their Tyfferim drawl that he soon reasoned away the chief his anxieties. The voice came again, and it was drawing nearer, and then, through the confusion of marching waitresses, collected glasses, drifting plates, and moving patrons, came a figure which Breigh seemed to recognize.
“Hullo, there!” the man repeated, coming into better view of their table.
Cabhrin sat up, and behind his raised glass was a rather large man barreling toward them, his long limbs and limbering gait forcing everyone in his path to leap out of the way. He came to their table, and when he arrived at last, having nearly knocked over a table or two in his way, he put his hands on his hips and declared, “Now lookit what Oi found here!” Cabhrin narrowed his gaze and looked up, and there was the face of a hale and hardy man of about five and forty, his face flizzening in mighty achievement of having found Breigh, whom he was regarding with eager conviviality. His smile took permanent refuge in the corner of his mouth and crept up to the creases lining the corners of his eyes, and even when he stopped smiling momentarily to turn aside and permit a short cough, the lurks around his mouth still curved in a grin. He was a miner, his profession betrayed by his torn linens, so ancient and grannowed as if they were sewn onto him, a tragedy of a hat piled onto his head in a heap of cloth and mold, and his long unkempt hair patted against his soot-stained skin.
Cabhrin shrunk back from the man’s notice and glanced at his brother, who was acknolwging the miner with the broadest of smiles. “Why’d you got that look on you?” said Cabhrin, in a half-whisper, screening himself with his glass. “You know this man?”
“Oh, aye,” said Breigh impressively. “All of Glaoustre knows him.”
“Well, now!” the man bellowed, in a voice that nearly took Cabhrin from his seat. “Here do be a thing Oi find by way of a maester,” gesturing heartily at Breigh, “settin’ ‘ere mightly at his ease. Maester Breigh,“ he declared, extending his hand, “How’re yew, sir, and the blessin’ of the holly-day to yew.”
“Fhilibh” Breigh announced, “Maith Ailineighdaeth.”
They shook hands, Fhilibh’s great undulating motions nearly taking Cabhrin’s eye, and when Cabhrin leaned back to save himself, Fhilibh fulminated in a rumble of bellowing mirth.
“Har, har, lad! Noutta worry!” the miner cried, with wrawling cachinnation. “And yew must be the next one down. Yew must be the saylor one.”
Cabhrin hardly knew what to do with so much presence. Breigh and the miner must be friends indeed if he knew him well enough to suppose him a “saylor”. The rasping laugh, the open temper, the indefatigable smile garnered a nod from Cabhrin, but he knew not what to say. Indeed, speaking was made impossible when, the next moment, the miner attacked Cabhrin’s hand with forceful friendliness.
“Fhilibh’s the name, lad,” he proclaimed, giving Cabhrin’s hand a prodigious shake, “Maester mucker.”
Cabhrin felt his arm being jossed from its joint, and Cabhrin looked to his brother for help with speaking terror.
“Master of the mine in Glaoustre,” Breigh explained, nodding toward his brother’s assailant.
“Oh, ah!” Fhilibh exclaimed, releasing Cabhrin’s hand, “Don’t speak th patter now, do yew, eh? That’s whoy yer lookin’ at me all dwizzen-eyed. Oh, ah, Oi see how it is. We’ll, Oi’ll keep me patter down.”
He thunked himself into the empty chair beside Cabhrin and made a grateful sigh, and Cabhrin lifted his pint to his face and shrunk in his seat.
“Ah, glad to see another one o’ yews Donnegals,” said Fhilibh, pointing at Cabhrin’s nose. “Seen yer aulder brothers round about the town earlier.”
A thrill of panic rushed over Cabhrin, and he glanced at Breigh, who was regarding the miner with a most satisfied smile, and Cabhrin’s shoulders withered.
“Don’t reckon they’ll come in here—an ale!” the miner shouted at a passing waitress, “They were out all the day at yer brother’s.” He paused and looked mindful. “Yer other brother’s. Had a crackin’ toime of it, they says, takin’ the young-uns to see the cows and chickens and things up there in that whackin’ great land what he’s got.”
The ale came in a moment, and the instant the glass was put down, he readily assaulted it. Cabhrin stared with horror as Fhilibh drank half the pint in one long draught, and his shoulders leaped when the miner slammed the glass down on the table with an “Ahhh, that’s what Oi been after! Sit up yerself, lad. Yew won’t be drinkin’ a pint bent beside yerself.”
Cabhrin did not realize how much he had shrunk into his seat, and when he righted, he hemmed and shifted slightly away, moving his seat nearer his brother and away from the man who was glaring at him with inquiring eyes.