Eoin Cyncad, a man of many lives, plays an ancient harp and finds himself being drawn through layers of mystery and magic.
Moisture clung to the coarse brown hair of Eoin Cyncad’s mustache and collected in the creases on his forehead. He pushed his way through yet more low pine branches and noticed that the ballooning white sleeves of his old fashioned tunic were damp. The air was so full of water that it was beginning to condense into drops on the pine needles. Eoin was glad that he didn’t live in a place that got so hot and humid. He would have thought it wouldn’t have been so bad out here in the middle of the forest, a long ways from anywhere, but clearly humidity let up for nothing.
He wondered how the ancient instrument that was concealed in its black leather case was doing in all this humidity. Not well, he expected. The case bumped gently against his back, as if trying to reassure him.
Soon, Eoin’s path through the wilderness became steep and he leaned forward slightly, using gravity to help propel him up the moss covered rocks and across the patches of dead pine needles that defined the deer trail he was following. He had to pause now and then to catch his breath in the intense heat. After a while, he was scrambling up large steep boulders, and had to slow down to search for hand and footholds.
A bird cried out high above, and the instrument weighed hot and heavy on his back. As he climbed, the trees began to thin, and the scent of pine needles, both fresh and dried, and the deep undertones of wild earth began to fade. They were replaced by the smell of freshly trodden moss and that damp, almost unperceivable smell of ancient, ancient stone.
There was still no wind, even at the top of the large rugged hill. The wet air lay still over the bare gray boulders that leaned at sharp angles about the crest of the hill like the gnarled teeth of an aging carnivore.
Eoin went and plunked himself down on a large boulder and leaned up against another, wishing it was a sunny day so that the stone could provide shade. But there was no sun, just a blanket of gray-green clouds with a lot of heat trapped beneath them. Rain seemed inevitable, and he half hoped it would come soon, although he didn’t relish the thought of getting soaked. He hadn’t, of course, brought an umbrella. You didn’t, for this sort of thing. It just wouldn’t match with the rustic tunic, vest, leggings and handmade leather boots.
After a few minutes, Eoin’s breathing began to come more evenly, so he rose and walked about the top of the hill, gazing out at the seemingly endless forest that spread in every direction except west. To the west lay the grey ocean. A hawk circled above, and Eoin felt in his bones that it was time.
Going to the center of the hill, he set the instrument down on the rocks. He unloosed the ties that held the soft leather case closed and watched with eager eyes as the black leather fell away from the warm wood of the ancient lap harp. It was a small, triangular affair, made of a dark, unknown wood and carved with swirling patterns and ancient runes. Most of the carving had been worn away with time, but the wood still shone in the bright ambient grey light. It was the harp that had, allegedly, belonged to the famous bard Taliesin, himself. Eoin’s mind was so full of history and excitement that he could hardly breathe.
Sitting cross-legged, he took it into his lap and brushed his fingers across the strings. They responded musically, eerily bright yet deep, and very much in-tune. It was the first time he had touched the strings since he had stolen the instrument from the museum weeks earlier. Even though Eoin knew it was wrong to steal, he couldn’t help feeling, deep in his gut, that instruments like this were meant to be played, not left sitting behind a glass display case and an array of trip wires and alarm systems.
Softly at first, he pulled against the strings, playing a little tune that was a favorite of his. The harp sang more beautifully than any he had ever heard before, much less played. A thrill of something even deeper than excitement rushed through him. He played another tune, and another.
Soon the rocks were ringing with the melodies from the harp and Eoin added his own deep, strong voice to the music. He played on and on; fast tunes that made him want to leap up and dance and then slow, mournful tunes that brought tears to his eyes. He hardly noticed when he stopped playing tunes that he knew and began playing tunes that he had never learned. He didn’t notice at all when his voice slipped into an ancient Welsh language that was so far removed from the modern one he knew that he would not have been able to understand himself, had he been listening.
He was so caught up in the music that he didn’t notice the wind that had built up from little breeze into a hair-whipping, tree-bending storm that swirled about the lonely hill.
Eoin played on and on until, quite suddenly, the sky burst and rain came pelting down on him. And as the large raindrops struck the strings of the harp, each one made a last loud ring and vanished, one by one until the harp had no more strings and Eoin stopped playing. He stared at the instrument in his hands and watched as it began to disappear where the rain hit it. It slowly faded around the edges, then, within a matter of minutes, it was gone.
He stood up slowly and looked about him, smelling nothing by wind and rain, hearing nothing but the roar of the wind and the shout of water hitting silent stone, and feeling nothing by very wet and very, very satisfied.