The antlers were stuck in the mud.
Ahhh no….Nehura thought… “Are you dead…..?” He asked as he walked forward.
All that could be heard was the water crashing from the waterfall nearby and the loud calls of some of the ever-watch crows circling in the sky.
Then the antler shuck slightly in the sticky mud…
“What?’ Nehura asked.
He lifted his head out of the mud, ‘No Nehura, I’m not dead, you got me fair and square though. Bit of a sucker punch when I wasn’t expecting it but fair is fair, you’ve won. Now, some gawping and give me a hand to get up.
Nehura took a few more steps down over the rock and extended his hand to Cernunnos. ‘Maybe lad things wouldn’t been different if we were to do this over a riddle instead of a fight..”he said as he got up off of the ground.
“Aye maybe” said Nehura, “didn’t mean to hit you so hard but y’know…he looked for the words, you don’t knock out a god very often and you certainly don’t want to anger them after you’ve done it… “I had to win, didn’t I?”
“I’m going to let you in on a little secret lad, win, draw or loss in these trials and it doesn’t really make a difference, you can lose and show great heart and courage and cunningness and you can still be awarded pass…hardly anyone’s ever fought me though, it’s 100s of years since I had to fight.” Cernunnos stood a good two meters above Nehura in height and his antlers extended as far out as his height and the moss growing from his shoulders down to his arms shone a bright emerald in the sunshine. Nehura wanted to ask if he weighed much and hindered his movement but decided against it for fear it might sound foolish. He’d ask Tonnin when he got back to the druid.
“No, the moss doesn’t hinder me at all. Sure usually I’d have a few birds nesting on me, wee things, sparrows and finches and tits, they don’t even mind the moving about. Sure, it’s just that, I don’t really be moving about much. I just put my hand to the ground and I know what happening almost anywhere. I only move if I need to step in and help nature or an animal in a bit of bother but most of the time I just sit around peacefully in awe at the wonder of it all.”
“I didn’t know you could read thought Cernunnos…”
“I wouldn’t be telepathic or anything but I could see the question written on your face boy. Well done though, you beat me fair and I took the beating I deserved. Good luck with the rest of your trial, you’ve one left, yes?”
“Tell me this though, what’s your birth tree?”
“Oak, I was born June 12th of the modern calender.”
“I should’ve known.’ They walked on in silence, heading back to where Tonnin had told Nehura Cernunnos would meet him.
“Aren’t the sounds of nature wonderful?” Cernunnos ask. “They are Cernunnos, there’s little better in the world than a good walk in nature, you can nearly drink in how good it is for the soul.”
The god laughed… “You nearly can Nehura, you nearly can. Oak, yes, you’re physically stong but that’s not always a sign, you’re a stong head on your shoulders boy, I can see that. Justice is important for you. Don’t ever forget that as you get on in years, the little man has to be stood up for, the lions and the bears and the wolves might make the most racket in the wilderness but the voices of the beetles and the spiders and the wrens are every bit as important.”
Makes sense that you want to be a druid too, sure doesn’t it mean ‘speakers with the oak. I’d happily bet you’ll pass the final trial easily lad and I can see you going on to be a great knower and teacher of the ways of the Tuath. Now, I’m no clairvoyant and I can’t claim to see the future but I’ve been around an awful long time Nehura and I’ve a good feeling about you. You’ll do well…
“I don’t know Cernunnos, there’s not that many of us left, we might be the last of our kind. People keep going on and on about the prophecy and that there’s still time for it to come true but I’m not so sure, it’s been around for too long and hasn’t come to pass yet, I think they’re deluding themselves. I think we’ll be the last here and then men will leave the place in ruins. They’re like a disease, everywhere they go, the set up, start trading and then get greedy and take all the natural resources from a place, leave it in ruins and then move on or worse they build cities and towns on their trading and import everything from all over and…” He let out an exasperated sigh… “Can’t they see the destruction? Is it because they live such short lives? I know we’re not supposed to approach them but they’re going to kill the planet eventually…”
“Come on Nehura, don’t despair, the earth was here for an awful long time before even the likes of my kind came about. And then your kind came and then man. The earth will be here long after we’re all gone, man won’t kill the planet, they might kill themselves off but if they do, sure you know yourself Nehura, they won’t be the first mammals to go extinct. But I understand you, they’re still in their infancy as a species though, try not to be so hard on them, they’ve just advanced a bit too quickly is all. Things will balance out eventually, nature will always find a balance.”
The rounded a corner and were coming close to the spot Tonnin had sent Nehura to. They began their ascent up the small hill to the rock table at the top “Your prophecy still does have time and that doesn’t mean it will or won’t come true, I can’t tell you that but whether it does or not Nehura you know your role in life…don’t you?”
“Tonnin told me during my studies that you’re only role in life is to find your true role in life.”
“It’s been too long since I last saw Tonnin, when you see him tell him to pay a visit and tell him I’d love to share a smokepipe with him again. But that’s some sage advice lad, actually, it’s better than sage, it’s ideal for how your kind should see life.”
At the top Nehura stood on the rock table and called Tonnin’s name. “Thank you Lord Cernunnos. Again, I apologise for hitting you so hard…”
“All’s fair Nehura, good luck for your final trial and when it’s all done I’d like to extend a welcome invitation to you as well. Don’t be shy and when you ever need answers about the flora or fauna you’ll know how to contact me after you win in the final trial, which I’m confident you will.”
Nehura called Tonnin’s name again.
“Don’t despair about the fate of your people either. Time is long, very, very long and while your lifetime is so much longer than men’s it’s still little more than the blink of an eye for my kind. Nature always finds balance and if it seems dark now for the planet that just means it’s nighttime and the dawn will eventually come.”
The giant god extended his hand to shake Nehura’s. As Nehura put out his hand to accept it the antler’ed one took him by surprise and embraced him in a hug. At that moment Nehure could feel his body collecting some of Cernunnos’ wealth of knowledge, a tsumani of calmness and oneness with all of nature washed over him and he almost felt like he was floating in the nature god’s bear-like embrace.
Cernunnos let go… “Now you know my love for nature Nehura, go back to your world with a love for that knowledge and remain a seeker of truth and justice. You’ll make a very fine druid indeed. Now, step back onto the rock there and I’ll call Tonnin for the final time.”
The huge god turned around and faced the valley and let out the loudest gutteral-voiced shout Nehura had ever heard down across the valled. “Tonnin!” he shouted for what felt like an eternity as the ground shook beneath their feet, birds flews from their nesting places and pack animals ran in groups in the valley below them.
The Celtic god laughed again… “Oh, I enjoyed that, it’s good to give the animals a fright every now and then, gets their blood going. Goodbye Nehura.”
“Goodbye Cernunnos” Nehura said before closing his eyes.
With a flash and a crack of thunder Nehura opened his eyes and his was back in Tonnin’s ceremony room.
“That silly smile on your face tells me you won, what was the riddle? Or was it a quest that he set you.”
“A fight…you fought with him? Why would you fight the nature god.”
“Well, y’know, most of he druid just take him on with his riddles or quests, I wanted to be different and I had a feeling he’d be rusty in a fight.”
“And was he?”
“No, he wasn’t. But I got him as he was coming over over some rocks, I got a bit higher than him and hid, when he got close I surprised him and knocked him out with a swing of a club. I thought I’d kill him for a bit, he didn’t answer me when I called him.”
“I’m surprised that you asked him for a battle, but then again Nehura, you’re full of surprises, always thinking differently than everyone. I shouldn’t be surprised so I won’t be.”
“How long was I out for, it felt like I was there for a day?”
“No at all, I reckon it’s only about an hour since you drank. Now, off with you and get some rest. Your final trial is tomorrow.
Nehura put up his hood and walked home. He was elated with his success but putting his hood up meant he wouldn’t be distured by anyone on his walk home and even though he wanted to shout from the rooftops about his triumph he knew he had to get some rest for the final part of his ordeal.
Around midday the following day he returned to Tonnin’s house.
“This is it then Nehura, pass this final trial and you become a druid.Now, y’know, your days of learning will never end, a day I don’t learn something is a sad day and it will be for you too but you’ll have learned enough and tested yourself enough to become one of my kind. I’ve taken a shine to you since you became my apprentice Nehura so this is a little bittersweet for me, I’ll miss having you as a student but saying that I’m looking forward to having you as a colleague.”
“Thank you Tonnin. Those are kind words and I look forward to being you colleague too. You’ve taught me well…”
“Hold that thought lad, you’re not done yet. There’s a final one to go.” Tonnin stood up and took some herbs and dried mushrooms and a bottle of liquid from a shelf. “Pass me your cup Nehura and let’s get the process started.”
Nehura obliged. Tonnin mashed his herbs and mushrooms together in a stone pestle uttering spells as his did his work. Finally he added them to the liquid and poured most of the mixture into Nehura’s cup. He kept a little for himself. The both took their cup, toasted ‘slainte’ to one another and drank the concoction.
“Pass this trial and I get to teach you the recipe and you’ll be allowed make your own adjustments as well.”
“I’ll make it sweeter, that’s for sure.” said the trainee druid.
“You can if you want but it’s bitter for a reason, if it tastes nice too many people would be drinking it and we’d have nothing but villages of Tauth off journeying in distant lands and nothing would get done in this world….Anway, your first card was Morrigan and you passed her personal quest. Then came Cernunnos and you took him on in battle and now you’ve one more card to draw. Take a few moments to meditate Nehura and let the drink take effect, when you feel it coming on, draw your final card.
Twenty minutes of so passed before Nehura began to feel the effects of Tonnin’s drink. “I’m ready he said.”
“Take my deck of cards here, shuffle them, part them, scatter them, do what you will but chose one and turn it up.”
Nehura took the card and shuffled them. Then he placed them spread out on the floor in front of him. He calmed his thought and went into a slight trance and let his eyes scan over all of the cards. Finally his eyes came to rest on one. He reached forward and turned it up.
“The Dagda” said Tonnin. “Oh you poor devil, one of the toughest cards to turn up. I hope he takes a liking to you like Cernunnos did Nehura”.
Nehura walked towards the small bed attached to the wall and lay down, the potion was taking full effect now and colours we swirling. Tonnin was speaking but he couldn’t make out the words, they were blending with the colours and he was struggling to keep his eyes open. He gave in to the potion and closed his eyes for a moment.
When he opened them he was standing again on a rock table. This time he wasn’t at the top of a mountain though, he was beside a large banquet table and cauldron. It was set for a huge feast and some that smelled delicious was bubbling in the huge pot above the fire.
From behind him a voice boomed
“Who are you?”
Nehura turned around as he said “My name’s Nehura, I’m here for the third part of my trial.” As the word came out his his mouth it ramined open when he finished his sentence as he stared agap at the tallest being he had even seen. The Dagda was as tall as two oak trees on top of each other and his legs were just as thick.
“The final part? Great! Congratulations on getting so far boy. First we’ll eat and break bread together and drink some wine and then we’ll decide how this trial will go.
They ate and drank long into the night with The Dagda quizzing Nehura on his druidic knowledge and the goings on in the worlds of the Tuath and of men. Nehura has stopped eating hours ago but The Dagda seemed to have a bottomless pit of a stomach and continued to feast.
“So it’s actually true Dagda, your cauldon never empties…”
Dagda laughed “Of course it’s true Nehura, I didn’t invent magic, that was Anu but she gave it to me and as the first druid the first thing I did was make sure I’d never go hungry. I spent too many years hungry for that to happen again, but look, that’s a tail for another time. Tell me this; how do you want to do this, a quest, a riddle or a battle.”
“Dagda, I’m not stupid, I know a glance of your club kills a person instantly and you’ve never lost a fight, I don’t want to battle you. I choose a riddle, I want a test of knowledge.”
Dagda laughed again, “Oh you’re a smart one alright, come with me so, let’s go across that field there and we’ll get this started.”
The both stood up and walked towards one corner of the field. As they got closer Nehura could see that there were three battle clubs resting around the inside corner of a stone wall. He wondered what this riddle would be.
“Here’s your riddle boy, three clubs lie against that wall there, one is oak, one is ask and one is birch, each of them have their own magical properties, your question is…which club will you pick to fight me?.”
“But….but Dagda, I can’t beat you, you’re the King of the Gods….I chose riddle, there’s no way I can win.”
Again Dagda laughed “Pick your club Nehura before you annoy me. It’s time to fight.”