For more than hundred score years, blackbirds had kept sentry over the lands of LockFaire. Biding their time, they waited for the moment that The Elder Watch had promised would one day come. The first of the sentry birds had long vanished from this world, but each generation that followed had never once lost sight of the duty bestowed upon their kind so long ago. And so when a Seeker finally did appear on the woodland path that led to their lands, seven blackbirds rose as if one, paying heed to naught that stood in their flight.
Orange beaked they flashed. Against a tapestry of forest green they flew. With wings stretched to full span they shuttled between trees weaving a path through branches and leave. They cared not for the snapping of twigs, nor too for the dislodgment of ancient mosses that fell to the forest floor below. Let the villagers find them so that they might too read the signs and know that change was afoot.
Skywards the blackbirds flew, climbing ever higher through the trees, higher still above the canopy until their rasping throats told them they had reached the thinning air. There they circled at great height each casting watchful eyes over the seven mountains that marked the Edge of their lands. Five appeared as grey shadows in the dimming light. But the sixth and the seventh mountains glowed in the setting sun as if alight with fire. To all who dwelt in LockFaire these were known as the Sister Gates of Ahn Gheata. Few cast their eyes in their direction even fewer had dared to venture near. Those who had reason to enter the depths of Ahn Gheata had returned with tales of strange stirrings in their minds of and numbness in their hands that no fire had been able to warm. Far removed at the end of their lands the people of LockFaire had no reason to heed the travellers’ tales save to retell them as children’s stories or as fire talk after the day’s work. For the villagers, Ahn Gheata was of a place of Nevermind but it was to this very same forest that the seven messengers now arrowed their way with great haste.
In near time the sentry blackbirds reached the Sister Gates and straight to centre of Ahn Gheata they flew. Thrice above a small clearing they circled before settling on the roof of the lone woodcutter’s cottage below. Woodcutter’s cottage it might have been but no ringing of axe had been heard in LockFaire since the beginning of The Change and over time the forest had crept its very door. Had it not been for footfall, the cottage would have disappeared along with all the others. With bare breath between them the seven blackbirds sang their news.
In the cottage below, Camhnóir heard the blackbirds’ song and shuffled his feet in time to the tune. And he would have continued to dance, if they had care to continue their song but their duty done the birds turned their heads and followed their beaks whence they had come.
And with their going Cam nor thought to remember the meaning of their trilling. Then tapping his temple with a finger crookéd, as if to prompt him of himself, he stopped his feet a dancing, put down his kettle and took up instead the undertaking of his own duty. A duty so long ago assigned that barely he remembered it.
And, in taking up his duty he took up too, upon his back, his coat of green. And upon his head his feathered shawl, for the before-evening air he thought unto himself had turnéd a cooling of sorts. And at that thought, another thought took its time to enter his ancient mind.
T’would be cold soon.
And forgetting the blackbirds’ song, he looked to his hearth.
Sorely he would regret not stopping now to light a fire to warm him on his journey. And what good a fire without a feed?
He brightened at the thought and chuckled.
A skip and a hop nor more would it take to gather kindling and a log or two. He would stay and enjoy his cup of brew; a bite to eat then when he was warmed and supped he would see to that which he had been bidden to do. He rubbed his hands delighting in a fire that was not yet lit. But where his boots?
If any of the Elder Watch had thought to take this moment to cast their attention on the Forest of Ahn Gheata they would have sent dispatch quick to remind Camhnóir of the urgency at hand but as it was the Elder Watch itself over time had fallen in its vigilance and so, unnoticed and unwatched, Camhnóir continued in his forgetfulness to search for his boots.
Camhnóir’s toes lead him from the kitchen cold, to the welcome-room of his dwelling. There beneath his greeting-bench his toes sought to find his boots. Big toe touched leather straps and drew it forth but when his toes returned to look for the other boot, they chanced instead upon a length of wood. Camhnóir’s mouth formed an O of surprise and to his mind an image came. But needed he to bend and take a look to make sure that what he thought was there, was really so and not the trickery of long-time longing. Creaking on bended back he stretched out upon the floor. One ear he placed upon the walking boards, not for the listening but to allow for the seeing that one eye would see. Waited he for the grey veil of dim light to pass and then with eyes adjusted to the dark, he espied, asleeping under a blanket of dust his long-lost flute, all newly found. His fingers danced a welcoming jig as they did venture forth under the bench taking with them his elbow and his shoulder broad. Then quick as a fox his stretchéd arm plucked back his once lost flute and brought it home to him. Ah, the joy of lost and found.
To his breast he held it first and then kissed it he, with his heart. Then rested it he, against his cheek and caressed it with his breath.
He breathed the notes of his own lost land and in their song he delved as if in dream or under spell. Gone from his ears the blackbirds’ news, gone from his care the fire burning, gone from his mind the quest awaiting. Camhnóir, the Keeper of Ahn Gheata played on.
Five mountains west from where Camhnóir played, a traveller heard his flute atrilling. Moilinth stayed her foot mid step and left it there for fear of crackling twig or leaf. She listened with cocked head and turned ear to far and near. The trilling was of a gentle sort. A lilting song full of love and glee, but e’en so Moilinth looked to good side and bad then to abovehead and underfoot. No sign of danger did she mind, but mindful of evil and cunning ways, gently she lowered her foot. With steps as soft as feet of bare she left the woodland path and slipped into the shadows amongst the trees.
A curtain of willow she found and behind it down she lay upon the ground. She hastened to make a cover of leaves to hide her skirts, her coat and shawl. To the grass she turned her face and a rock made she of her back. If from the path, some being or creature should pass, she would appear as if of the forest floor. She slowed her breathing and to the wind she turned her ear.
The tune was of a sort she had not heard before, but in it she did discern some ancient notes that were familiar to her ear. The music, pleasant to her senses, was soothing to her grief, lulling her into thoughtfulness of times when happier she had been. With each note the fear that had been her only companion these past ten days began to drift away. By and by her eyes became heavy with thought. How was it so that it come to be that she was here — hiding ‘neath willow tree in forest deep acomforted with song so fair, from a player she could not see?