The battle lines were drawn up.
Spear-tips glinted in the sunlight, a forest-line of readiness.
The sharpness of swords behind shields.
He would not stand in that line.
He would not shed the redness of his blood in that battle
Rúadán was not a fighter, but he might have been. Too young, they told him, too slight of form. But he might have been a warrior. He was quick and sharp, sleek as a russet fox; he would grow into strength, in full time.
Rúadán was not a king, but he might have been. He was the son of a king. Bres had been the golden chosen one of the Dé Dannann, the enemies, who would not share this green land with his father’s people. But that had not lasted. They had cast down his father, laying satires and tales of ill judgement upon him, so that he had slunk back to his father’s people. His mother was close kin to the Dagda, his blood would stand him in leader-stead on either side of the battle lines.
Rúadán was not a hero, but it could be so. He was young, was this russet-gold boy. Yes, he was still a boy, but he could yet play a hero’s part. To be young was not a barring, it seemed. For were not the battle-strategies of the enemies lead by a boy no older than himself, another golden one of duel blood. The son of the Dé Danann, Cian, certainly, but it was rumoured that this Lugh was the grandson of the battle chief, Balor of the poisonous eye, himself. No Rúadán was not a hero, but he might yet be.
For his Fomoire kin had found his worth, had seen his quick secret ways, had watched him move through shadows fox-stealthy, or turn and dodge, in verbal combat, lithe as the agile Dobharchú, dark in the waters. They had weighed his value and given him a new name, one that might bring him renown and hero-hood.
They had named him their spy.
“We had wondered”, they told him, “how the warriors injured, by our swords in battle always returned to fight against us the next day.”
“We had wondered”, they told him, “why their spears, blunted in battle, should be sharp again with the morning’s sunrise.”
“We have wondered, and you have found out the answer. You have uncovered the secret of Dían Cécht’s marvellous well into which mortally injured warriors can be bathed back to health. You have laid bare the secrets of the Craftsmen’s forge where Goibniu, Luchta and Creidne form and fix wonderful weapons in lightning quickness.”
“You are quick and sharp. You are young and welcome still to either side of your kin. You may go where you will behind the battle lines, but you are our spy. We wish you to return, and this time we ask of you a hero’s deed, a deed of renown. We ask you to kill Goibniu in his own forge and with his own fresh-finished spear.”
So Rúadán had gone to the forge, the bright red-haired boy, and had watched with seeming curiosity the deft play of forging between Goibniu’s beaten iron tips, Luchta’s shaft shaping and the bright riveting of Creidne.
“Give me a spear to hold”, the boy asked, feigning wonder at the magic of the making; and, laughing, the craftsmen held out to him an ornate weapon, fresh-made and shining, sharp as the joining of their skills. Rúadán stood, posing the warrior-pose, spear held high above his head. He turned to face Goibniu, and the smith smiled at the boy’s seeming pleasure.
“Now”, thought Ruadhan. “Now I shall fling the spear. Now I shall kill the smith and end the tyranny of his craftsmanship. Now I shall save my father’s people. And then I shall go to the well and destroy its power. Then, I will be a hero of valour and renown.”
The spear flashed bright in the ruddy forge-light.
Flashed as it flew piercing Goibniu’s side.
The red light flowed like blood.
Rúadán watched in tingling horror as Goibniu calmly pulled the spear from his flesh, lifted it high. Rúadán stood staring, his body already transfixed, as Goibniu aimed the spear at the red blood of his heart. Now he knew that he would not grow in to warrior-ship, would never become a king, would never receive the champion’s portion, would not be the one to win the renown of the well’s destruction.
He had challenged the skill of the Dé Danann craftsmen and failed.
The red spear flashed in Goibniu’s hand.
It flew towards its resting ruby place.