Story for the Day: Ailbhe and Aidhill
There are many stories of the Gods looking after orphaned children, and while there are children who claim their attention and merit their care more than others, it's really their endearing quality that draws a God's notice.
A chorus of voices rang out from the common room, the minstrelsy of curious minds, the oos and aahs of childlike wonder, saw Fuinnog swarmed with many interested disciples the momenthe appeared in the room. It was the usual evening gathering: the dirt of the day scrubbed off, their faces cleaned, their mouths fed and small frames well-clothed, the orphans gathered round the fire for the last ten minutes—and another five more minutes after that, and perhaps only another five if the Brothers and Sisters would allow—of playtime, before stories of Old Gods and Fearsome Warriors were to lull them to sleep. The somnolent throes of slooming children were what Fuinnog was silently wishing for after having been in the common room for all of a minute, for when he appeared, expecting to find the children playing quietly to one side or reading together, he owned himself mistaken in thinking this would be a peacable visit: the high revel of riotous games caromed from one end of the room to the other, a string of boys chased each other with wooden swords, a bevy of girls sat at the pretend tea table arguing over who had licked someone’s slice of tart, drawing materials were strewn about with a few disgruntled artists mantling over them, a few older children were reading the tales from Marridon in strident voices hoping to surmount the raucous din and only succeeding in adding to it. A few eager climbers attached themselves to Fuinnog’s legs, some attacked him with raised hands and gnashing teeth, claiming to be Mharac and coming to defeat the evil hunter who had come to skin his cubs, some were satisfied to stand on his toes and stare at him with wide eyes, some begged to be picked up and swung about, a few were only midly interested and were instead more occupied with excavating noses with probing fingers, another was slenching about for uneaten tarts and groaking those just being finished. The sooming of warm milk, the chimbling of biscuits between little fingers, the furious scratching of pencils on paper, the cries of barbarous leaders calling out for their enemy’s heads, the grunting and gnurling of mountaineer clambering up Fuinnnog’s legs, the pitiful roars of tiny voices—a joyous symphony of juvenile animation, and Fuinnog wondered how anyone could command such an unrelenting horde, the ceasless tumult of sound, or endure the tide of sanguine expectation and apprasing looks. Fuinnog had not enured himself to the oppressing stimulation of so much concentrated interest; he was used to quieter evenings, spent soaring over the highlands or in discussion with his winged companions, before transcending to the divine plane to see Romhaine and spend as much time with her as he could before dawn. He had little idea of children, and an even lesser idea of all the noise they could produce. It was any wonder that Borras should be a regular visitor, if this was the welcome he was used to receive. Fuinnog did not know where to look first or whose attention he should claim or what activities he should try for to engage the children and make them quiet. He was the God of the Sky, and one transformation into his divine form should settle them into a more slumbering state, but he feared injuring their small minds, for while children have a greater understanding of the imaginary and have broader inventive horizons, he did not know whether they could withstand the splendid glamour of a God’s true form.
All this anxious speculation, however, was soon rendered unnecessary, for the cry of “Who wants mah cake?” ascended over the room. There was a terrible pause, everyone looked to the speaker with fervent determination, and a conclamant “Me!” saw an end to all tranquility. Rebellion reigned, a confusion of children piling atop one another ensued, and almost everyone was soon leaping toward the coveted cake, scampering with all the alacrity that edacious young minds could furnish. The children scaling Fuinnog’s legs slid down, the artists abandoned their projects, the girls forgot their empty cups of tea and unfinished biscuits, and soon the children were collected to one side of the fireplace, excepting two of the smallest chidren, who stood at Fuinnog’s feet, gawping up at him with awed looks and open mouths, one of them with tooth trying desperately to escape a gapped mouth, and the other with a ferocious sniffle.
“Whoa…” they breathed, eyeing Fuinnog with fervent approbation.
Fuinnog narrowed his gaze and blinked at the children.
One of the children sniffed. “Hullo,” said he, with an awkward wave.
Fuinnog returned the gesture and canted his head. They were so dreadfully captivated by him, the gapes of morbid fascnination discomfiting as they were intruiging. Why they should like him so much, Fuinnog could not decipher: they did not pray to him, they did not even know who he was judging by their expressions, and he examined them with as much curiosity as they accorded him.
The child with the wayward tooth bit his lip. “Yeh look funneh.”
Fuinnog glanced at the child and then at his friend. “Oh.”
“Are yeh a bird?”
A smile crept into the corner of Fuinnog’s mouth.
“Yeh don’t look lyke a bird,” said the other child, scrunching his nose.
“I am not a bird,” said Fuinnog, and then, after a moment’s thought, he added, “I take the form of a bird some of the time.”
The children cooed and oscillated on their toes.
“Can Ay see?” chimed one child.
“How can yeh be a bird onleh some o’ the tyme?” asked the other. “Why can’t yeh be a bird now?”
“Aye! And how comes yeh can’t be a bat? I lyke bats.”
Fuinnog looked sly and raised a brow. “Why cannot you be a bat?”
“Ay can be a bat if Ay’m wantin’!” the child sniffed. “Ay can grow wings and have fangs—but Ay’m not allowed teh byte. Brotheh Brudha said.”
“Aye, and we can be birds too, but no scratchin’.” The child with the wayward tooth played with his loose kag. “Ay scratched Haruild once, and so Sisteh Ilena said no more scratchin’, but that’s what birds do, with the scratchin’, but Ay can still peck though.”
Fuinnog found unexpected enjoyment here, and he simpered at their ingenuousness and knelt down to them, treating them with even more interest than they accorded him. “Tell me your names.”
“Ay’m Ailbhe,” the boy with the wriggling tooth declared.
The boy with the sniffle snuffed. “Ay’m Aidhill. What’s yer name?”
“I am called Fuinnog.”
The boys gathered their lips to one corner of their mouths and folding their arms across their chests.
“Are ye lyke Fuinnog from the storehs?” said Ailbhe, with an incredulous look.
“Fuinnog from the storehs don’t have no marks on him,” said Aidhill. “He got great big wings, and he flyies around the sky, makin’ clouds and rain and sunshine.”
“I have command of the heavens, but the Goddess Balane is responsible for the sun—“
“How comes yeh got funneh hair?” asked Ailbhe.
Aidhill seemed instantly affronted. “Ay lyke his hair. It’s no’ funneh,” he demanded. “Yeh don’t say it’s funneh.” He stabbed a finger at his friend’s nose. “Yer funneh.”
“No, yer funneh.”
“No, Ay said yeh.”
Here was a debate Fuinnog had never seen before, without a forseeable end and seemingly without purpose. There was no reasoning, no sensible dissertation; there was only another, “No, yeh!” added to the end of each round, every turn more fervent than the last. The argument seemed won, however, when a last, “Nuh uh, yeh!” settled the business. A humph and a glare was exchanged, and all seemed tolerably resolved, as the two children were willing to put by the argument for the sake of Fuinnog’s featherd locks.
“Can Ay touch yer hair?” said Ailbhe. “Ay’ll let yeh touch mah tooth.” He wiggled it about. “It’s gonneh come out soon, and Ay’m gonna get a visit from the Brouneidhs.”
Fuinnog raised a brow. “You believe the Brouneidh’s will come for your tooth?”
“Aye! They comes and gives meh a coppeh, and Ay lets ‘em have the tooth.”
“Please can Ay touch yer hair?” the child sang, reaching for Fuinnog’s plumes.
“That is not wise,” said Fuinnog, in a tender hue, moving his head back and gently holding the child’s hand down.
“Ay’m not wyse. Brotheh Brudha said auld folks are wyse, and Ay’m not auld.”
Fuinnog could not but laugh. “That is good reasoning, but not infallible.”
Aidhill’s nose curled. “Wha’s in-fal-i-ba-ble mean?”
This, however, endearing as it was, was lost under his friend’s cry of, “Yer hair moves on its own, lyke it’s real feathehs and all!”
Fuinnog fanned his hair slightly, and the children croosled in awe.
“Please can Ay touch it?” was the resounding cry, “Please? Please, Mr Fuinnog?”
The children leaned together and batted their eyes, their embrasures expatiating what charm they already had over Fuinnog’s heart.
“Very well,” Fuinnog conceded. “You may touch, but only for a moment.”
He bowed his head, and the two children carefully browsed his feathered mane, marveling with open mouths at the variety of textures, the felth of the feathers, the smoothness of the vanes, the stiffness of the hollowed shafts. He moved his head back, and the children gawped at him with renewed amazement.
“It feels wyrd,” said Ailbhe.
“Can Ay have a featheh?” said Aildhill.
“Give me one of yours, and I will give you one of mine,” said Fuinnog, smiling.
The children glanced at one another.
“But we don’t got no feathehs,” Aidhill sniffed.
“Aye, when we play birds, we just got pretend ones,” said Ailbhe. “We can give you pretend ones.”
They reached behind their ears and held out open and empty hands.
“I thank you,” said Fuinnog, smiling and inclining his head, “but I cannot give you my feathers.”
“Aw!” they whinged.
“Is it ‘cause they’re magic?”
“Is it ‘cause it’d be lyke pluckin’ a chicken?”
“I hope not,” said Fuinnog, smoothing his hair and looking charily about.
“Can we touch yer marks?” said Ailbhe, pointing to the lighning branches across the God’s shoulders.
“Are they scars?” asked Aildhill. “Did yeh fight someone?”
“Aye! Did someone carve ‘em into yeh?”
Fuinnog appeared to think about this. “I have always had them.”
“Ay lyke ‘em. Can we paint some more on yeh?”
“I do not think—“
“Can we play birds togetheh?”
“Aye! Let’s pretend we’re flyin’ and cawin’.”
Fuinnog admired their eagerness, but he had already stayed longer than he had intented. The night was getting on, Romhaine would be wondering where he was, and with a heavy heart he stood and said, “I cannot stay much longer.”
Sound of deflated expectation filled the room, and the Ailbhe and Aidhill frowned at one another and stared at Fuinnog’s feet.
“Do yeh have to go home?” Ailbhe moaned.
“We don’t got a home,” said Aidhill wretchedly. “We gotta live here till a ma and da comes to take us to a home.”
A pang struck Fuinnog here, and he felt himself monstrous for wishing to go. He felt as though he was abandoning them, and though he was not permenantly abscenting himself, the compunction which wracked his heart was more than his good nature could endure. He knelt once more, and while he would not stay and play with them, he would spend a few more minutes there, more to reassure himself of their happiness without his presence than to placate fears of his never coming back again.
“Do yeh have a ma and da?” Aidhill sniffed. “Ay don’t got one.”
“Me neither,” said Ailbhe.
There was a pause, and Fuinnog was thoughtful. “I have relations,” he decided.
Ailbhe’s brows bent. “Are those like brothehs and sistehs?”
“I suppose they are that.”
“Ay don’t got brothehs and sistehs,” said Aidhill. He sniffed. “Ay got a cold instead.”
“That is unfortunate.” Fuinnog’s heart sank a little here. He wished to improve their situation, wished he could do something more for them, to call on Ogham and have him cure of the child of his cold, or to listen to prayers of parents asking for two little boys, but this would be interference, and as he had just done reproaching Aoidhe for dong the very thing which he wanted to do now, he struggled with his heart’s solicitation, the temptation of being in the position to improve and being disallowed. He had visited children before, but none so sincere, none so insightful, none so deserving as these, but merit mattered little where obligation was concerned, and Fuinnog was sorrowful and silent, distressed that his pledge to Diras forbade him from doing more for them than his conscience would have otherwise allowed.
“How comes yer so sad lookin’?” said Ailbhe, drawing close.
“Aye,” said Aildhill.“Did yer da leave yeh here too?”
Fuinnog’s brows furrowed and his heart ached. “No.”
Ailbhe shrugged and wiggled his tooth. “Mah da didn’t want meh after mah ma died, so Ay came here. Brotheh Brudha and Sisteh Ilena take care of us, and Ay learn and play and have friends. Do yeh got friends?”
Aoidhe’s words, his wretched insistence upon keeping friends, resonated in Fuinnog’s mind. “Perhaps not in the say way you do…” was all he could manage, but the hawks and falcons in the Sheabac were poor comfort for a sorrowing heart. The Gods had their responsibilities, and Aoidhe, infuriating as his japes and disobedience were, Fuinnog owned, was right: the Gods needed friends, ones that had no association with their relations, and though he did have Romhaine, their time together was limited due to the constraints introduced by their partnership. Was it right to have friends amongst their children? He considered the two boys, considered how secluded they were, how wronged by circumstance and yet how aimable. Their parents had deserted them here—how they could benefit from his company, how he could assist and augment their situation—but it was not advisable for Fuinnog to consider what he might do for them when he had so earnestly accused Aoidhe of insubordination for the same.
“Everehbodeh gots to have a friend,” Ailbhe declared. “Yeh can be mah friend.”
“Aye!” Aidhill sniffled. “Myne too!”
The children instantly embraced him, and Fuinnog, unprepared for the attack, was astounded when he found himself with a child hanging off each arm. Their tight clasps, their cheeks pressing against his arms, betrayed a deseperation for acceptance, a desire to be loved that Fuinnog could not but recognize. He held them close and rubbed their backs, his ideals of oaths and adherence to regulations beginning to soften.