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The Becoming: The Trials of Nuada Airgetlám – Part I

Published December 18th, 2013: Source

 

“Your early trials have gone well young one,” said the grizzled instructor to the male Silverhand, “Your training has been the best that I’ve seen in many decades. Be proud of yourself.” At this hard-won praise the trainee smiled broadly, for such a compliment was rarely given. “But not too proud,” cautioned the instructor, “For an excess of pride is what led whom we honor to a terrible, yet profound, destiny. Recite for me the tale as you have been taught.” With that, the old instructor lowered himself to the ground, his back now resting comfortably against the base of an ancient oak. The trainee, looking more nervous than he had during his trials, began to sing.

 

Once of a time there was a young warrior named Nuada who thought himself invincible on the field of battle. His sire had gifted him a rather unique magical sword. Nuada practiced from the barest inkling of dawn’s light until it was so dark that moonlight reflected off his blade. He relished any opportunity to test his prowess. He sought out and challenged the greatest warriors in the known lands. The blood and occasional destruction that accompanied such trials were but a minor nuisance to him. For decades, Nuada defended his people against all enemies, no matter their origin. He made no exception for those within our realm. Even after he was crowned King, Nuada always took the lead in battle, never relinquishing his place at the head of his army. Sadly his victories fed his ego, and as our lands swelled so too did his pride.

 

Late one summer’s day word came to Nuada that an old enemy had returned to once again threaten the Tuatha Dé Danann. He had defeated this enemy once and it angered him that they should return to waste his time; for he would surely defeat them again. He scoffed at their threats, shirking the advice of the leaders of the High Courts who had urged caution. The Courts warned Nuada that the enemy must have found a new ally or weapon for they wouldn’t otherwise be so brazen. Stories had reached their ears of a place called “The Depths” and the strange and powerful creatures therein. The leaders believed that their enemies had visited that place and returned strangely empowered. Nuada was unimpressed by such rumors; he vowed to cleanse that place once his foes relinquished their lives to his blade. He had ever kept his lands clear of abominations; he thought to himself, these so-called “Depths” would be no exception.

 

As the days passed, the Tuatha Dé Danann prepared for the invasion. As the first frosts settled upon their nights, an off shore invasion force was spotted by the Realm’s scouts. Summoning the Wild Hunt, Nuada vowed to descend upon the invaders and defeat their leader in single combat. He would then mercifully send the entire force back to their own lands, with a warning. The Courts hadn’t a chance to reconvene before Nuada and the Hunt rode out. They raced to the shore, the fire-wreathed hooves of their steeds never seeming to touch the ground. After a few days and nights of hard riding, they reached a towering overlook from where they could watch the invaders come ashore under cover of night. Never before had the Tuatha Dé Danann faced such a sizeable force, even Nuada was surprised and troubled by their numbers. Nuada’s unease increased when, from within the camp of invaders, he sensed a traitor. A Tuatha Dé Danann man was down there, he was sure of it. Then he knew, it was Bres, a former friend of his. Bres had left the Tuatha Dé Danann to seek power elsewhere and now he was standing on the shore with the enemy! Nuada’s swollen ego was hurt by this realization and he grew furious. He vowed to slay Bres for this betrayal of his people. Standing tall beside Bres in the invader’s camp was a strange, one-eyed statue. Nuada had heard rumors of this statue; it was called Balor.

 

Flying down from the cliff with the Hunt at his back, Nuada called out a challenge, daring their leader to come out and face him in single combat. Much to his surprise, Bres bravely answered his challenge. Striding out of the ranks of the enemy, Bres seemed greatly changed from the Tuatha Dé Danann youth Nuada had once called friend. His body, while still belonging to his race, was changed subtly. His aura which was once bright and true, appeared dark, misshapen and it radiated a cold, evil light. In his right hand, Bres bore a black obsidian blade. Seemingly alive, its shape shifted slightly in the moonlight. At first Nuada attributed this to the flickering light thrown by torches, yet he could feel the sword’s aura, it was shifting and dark. It was alive. Bres, seeing that Nuada had noticed his sword, informed him that this was just one of the surprises he held for Nuada. Bres bragged about how he had gone far into The Depths and had emerged more powerful. His sword was but one of the treasures he had earned. Bres boasted that these treasures were more than a match for those pitiful trinkets held by the Tuatha Dé Danann, including Nuada’s sword. Without the customary bow and honorifics, Bres charged Nuada and the battle began.

 

Taken aback by Bres’ claims as well as his lack of honor and respect, Nuada began the fight at a disadvantage, yet his years of hard training afforded him time enough to regain his composure. Slowly and surely, Nuada got the upper hand on Bres, driving him ever backward toward the sea. With each sound blow delivered, Nuada’s confidence grew; he knew the battle was over yet Bres seemingly did not. As each blow landed and forced Bres to retreat, he simply smiled. The smile turned to boisterous laughter as Bres felt the foam from waves lap his sandaled feet. Their duel continued for hours, Bres taking each blow from Nuada but not yielding any further land to him. Bres was as one of the stout Ironwood trees that ringed Tír na nÓg, unphased and unyielding even during the storm of Nuada’s most furious attacks.

 

As dawn broke the two warriors still battled ferociously, yet Nuada felt fatigued. After landing another particularly strong blow, Nuada slipped, he was indeed weakening. As if Bres had been waiting for this signal, his laughter became maniacal and he taunted Nuada. Bres dared him to try harder, telling him that he wasn’t even sweating yet. He laughed at Nuada’s weariness. As Bres’ taunts grew harsher, Nuada fought fiercer but could not find an opening to strike a truly punishing blow. As the sun rose over the towering cliffs, Nuada’s fatigue became more evident. Bres took the offensive then, driving Nuada back to the cliffs, his blows passing through Nuada’s defenses and finally, through armor. With each strike, Nuada felt a cold chill surge through his body at the point of impact.

 

Within moments, Nuada found his back against the cliff walls. He saw that even the Wild Hunt were concerned about their leader and Bres’ forces began cheering wildly for him to end the match. Just then Nuada swore he saw Balor’s eye move but he attributed that to fatigue. Desperate, he tried one last trick. It was a move he had learned in his youth. When they used to spar, Nuada defeated Bres a number of times using this same technique. He prayed that it would work one more time. However, as Nuada began his attack, a thin smile curled around Bres’ lips. This is what he had been waiting for all night; he had trained years for this very moment. As Nuada spun, his sword moving so fast that it was nearly invisible in the bright sunlight, Bres blocked Nuada’s sword with his left hand. The sword cut through Bres’ armor and instead of severing flesh, it struck solid metal. On impact, a jolt of bone-chilling pain surged through Nuada’s right arm, though it quickly grew numb from the intense cold. Bres then swung downward with his own blade, destroying Nuada’s treasured sword. Nuada’s blade split into several large pieces, each one tinged with ice and frost. For one moment, Nuada stood stunned before Bres, thunderstruck by the enormity of what had happened. As the full realization of his loss swept over him, Bres struck again, this time severing Nuada’s right hand. He followed that with a fearsome kick to the legs, which dropped Nuada to his knees. “You have lost oh mighty King, and as custom dictates, these lands are now mine to rule! Return to Tír na nÓg and tell our people that their true King has arrived,” Bres roared.

 

Despite shock and grave injury, Nuada was not a ready loser and he charged Bres as a bull might his challengers. Bres predicted this and smoothly dodged it. As Nuada flew past him, Bres keenly sliced off the rest of Nuada’s right arm. “I can keep this up longer than you can brother. It seems you want a reminder of who is King now,” sneered Bres as he turned to face his troops, “Kill them all, but leave the cripple alive.” The invaders eagerly fell upon the Wild Hunt and continued their butchery until the last of them lay dead, their bodies scattered piecemeal on the blood-stained sand. Bres then ordered his men to collect their heads in a sack that appeared to be made of human skin. Bres lit a torch and used it to seal Nuada’s wound at the shoulder. Placing the now unconscious Nuada and the dripping sack of heads on his own Phouka, he directed the steed to ride to their former home in Tír na nÓg, unload his burden, and then return to the fleet.

 

The Phouka was delighted at these orders. The horse made quite a job of it. Leaping about excessively, it sought out the most uneven terrain, made multiple unnecessary stream crossings and generally made sure that that ride was as painful as possible for his passenger. The horse apparently measured success in moans of pain elicited from its living cargo, its joy increasing at each grunt of displeasure. Reaching the capital city of Tír na nÓg, the Phouka paused outside the ornate golden gates, reared up on its hind legs and abruptly dropped Nuada and the sack of heads on the stone entryway. Assuming the form of an attractive woman, the Phouka proceeded to the gate and announced to the city that their new King was on his way. She claimed that they would have seven passings of the sun to prepare a suitable welcome. Not waiting for a response, she saucily strode away from the city, outwardly daring those within to shoot her in the back. Seeing what had happened to Nuada and to the Wild Hunt, the city’s inhabitants were brought down as surely as if their walls had collapsed.

 

A Hamadryad healer tended to Nuada, who was still unconscious from his wounds when he was carried into the city. When he regained consciousness he shamefully related the entire tale to the High Courts. Most of the leaders of the Courts rebuked and chastised him, though none hurt him quite so much as his beloved Morrigan. Rather than speak, she simply changed her form to that of a crow, flew over his head three times and then out of the court. When he saw his young granddaughter do that, what remained of Nuada’s pride melted as quickly as snow exposed to fire. Over the next seven days, the Courts met and debated how to react to the sudden change in their fate. Some argued for resistance, wanting to ignore the deal that Nuada had made at the beginning of that fateful duel. They argued that Bres had broken protocol and besides, Nuada hadn’t received the blessing of the Courts beforehand. Other members of the Courts argued for the importance of their honor and urged surrender.

 

While the healer was able to speed the overall healing process, she could not restore Nuada’s arm. All the while Nuada was in and out of consciousness but he found that even in his sleep he could not escape from this disaster of his own making. He slept often and his dreams were torture. In them, he saw what he thought were The Depths and the foul creatures that dwelt within. Each night ended with the same nightmare, that of his arm flying off his shoulder and landing on the sand, blood flowing from it until it formed a river. The river then passed through a hole in the sand and vanished, while his arm, surrounded by the broken pieces of his sword, still twitched.

 

On the sixth day, Nuada at last spent most of the day conscious. He was however a shell of his former self. His confidence had been replaced by humiliation and a great seething anger. He was not angry for losing the Kingdom or even his friends in the Hunt, but from losing the fight. Disgusted with himself he decided to flee the city, vowing inwardly to one day return and kill Bres. He knew where he had to go. The same place that Bres had gone, The Depths. Grabbing the broken pieces of his sword, he left with nary a word to anyone. As he set off on his quest, Bres’ army descended upon the now unguarded city, which swiftly surrendered to its new overlord and master.

 

For years Nuada travelled the land, searching for the entrance to The Depths. Many of those he encountered had heard of the place but none could even approximate the location. Like a dog on the hunt, Nuada followed every lead. Rather than diminish with time, his anger strengthened, and each time he felt the loss of his arm, he renewed his vow to kill Bres. He wandered from realm to realm, seeing many unusual and even moving sights, none quelled his anger. He resumed a modified, yet rigorous version of his former training regime, he would need to be ready to fight once he found The Depths. He trained to fight with his left arm. He relearned proper balance and footwork and though all he possessed was a rather mundane one-handed sword, he regained some of his former confidence as his skills improved.

 

Over the years Nuada was often forced to take petty jobs to earn money for his travels, though he continually sought knowledge concerning his quarry. After completing what seemed to him as an endless chain of caravan guarding, he encountered a merchant who told him that he had seen an entrance to The Depths. He offered to tell Nuada the location if he would promise to share any spoils he looted from that place. In addition, if he would agree to lead a caravan there, he would enlist a Dvergr who would craft for Nuada a properly balanced sword and a set of armor to aid him in his quest. Nuada was a more than bit mistrustful but decided he hadn’t much to lose. Besides, if the merchant was lying, there was a simple solution for such betrayal, left-handed or not. Nuada agreed to the bargain and the merchant was as good as his word. Several years later, Nuada and a team of hired mercenaries stood before the black monolith that served as an entrance to The Depths.

 

Thus ends Part I of this tale.