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Imbas, late at night, 16th September [CD]

James O`Neill

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Room of James O'Neill

The bedchamber is a small with a bed resting against the west wall. The bed is hung with navy velvet, the fabric trimmed with same-color tassels. Across from the bed is a stone hearth with a comfortable chair. There are no windows but many candles have been provided around a small carved elm table and chair. Candelabras rest on the mantel, casting long shadows over the polished wood of the floor.

In the Gaelic literary tradition, stretching back to before the arrival of Saint Patrick, there were – in addition to the bardic historian-scribes and the poet-priests known as ovates – poets who were revered by their sept and clan for their imbas forosnai, “illuminated” poetic inspiration. Through these fili, the gods would talk, and give these poets the gift of prophecy and spiritual truth in exchange for sacrifices, veneration, and meditation in transcendental states. To the Gaels, poetry was once sacred, a sentiment that James O’Neill could only dream would be shared by the world one day.

Unfortunately, the harsh reality was that even today’s Irish had started to forget the power their words once carried, scattered as the mother tongue declined, the Church of Rome crippled, and ancestral lands parceled off to the Scots and Saxons. But tonight, the dream of James was a tangible thing, brought on by a sudden brilliance, a sweeping, powerful thing that could very well be his own experience with imbas forosnai.

For ideas aplenty had struck him over the past two days, a lightning bolt whose static clung to him even more, a warm buzzing that brought forth tales aplenty. The odalisque of Constantinople…a beautiful, terrorized, but altogether dangerous liaison…does it count as overusing heroines if it is meant to invoke Eros? Yet others…he could pick the brain of Dundarg on the story of Tam Lin. The last bard standing ought speak to the Otherworld’s majesty… But then – his assignment from Rochester, the one he had spoken of to Lady Cambray earlier.

In Italy, there was a folk tale, Il gatto con gli stivali*, the story of a cat who used his wits and blade to fight monsters and woo maidens. The Merry Gang, meanwhile, had deemed Pembroke a Nemean lion – which, in turn, had reminded the poet of a commedia dell’arte character. The tragicomedy was all coming together. Or, as he had deemed it silently: Grand, entirely grand.

The apartment assigned to him was, generously put, cozy, but this was the first time that the young Irishman had actually utilized it for an activity not involving chamber pots, a meal, or sleep. This, naturally, did not satisfy Fergal, the grandfatherly valet who had practically raised his supposed master, a kindly-if-tired soul who was also ordered by James’s lord father to monitor his mercurial son’s behavior. In a thick, weary brogue, the servant implored his former charge, “Please, young master. I will bring you a tankard of hot mulled wine, but you must get some sleep.”

“Why?” James retorted childishly, laughing as he set his quill down. Before the old man had began his pleading, he had chosen to revamp his meter, daring to alternate heroic verse with Spencerian stanzas. From Wiltshire fair did the tawny Cat come/Lord Bellavista 'twas battle's alum… Staring at that line, he added, “Saint Brigid has planted a kiss upon my lips, Fergal. Who’m I to deny her?”

Fergal hesitated, familiar with these moods. “Sir, your lord father would wish you speak otherwise…”

James’s jaw tensed “Why, because I claim the chaste love of a muse, a pure blessing?”

“Because you attend the Church of Ireland, who speaks less of saints,” the servant growled. His charge had never cared much for the difference between the Church of Ireland and the Holy Mother Church, which the family held to in private.

Another burst of manic laughter, although inwardly, James’ soaring passion began to kindle a more dangerous flame. “We take communion in that church because my lord father kisses the arse of the cuaillí Albanacha**, those would-be planters who would sooner take his head.”

“Would you say that to His Grace– ”

“Enough - dún do bhéal!***” Louder now, James rose to his feet. A bewildered Fergal stared blankly, all too familiar with this pattern. “I-I am no child, old man, I’m not. I am b-bloody well aware of my lord father’s opinions, and that you favor them over mine. But my father is not the one who makes kings laugh and pleases dukes and earls, princesses and playwrights.” The princess part was only somewhat of a stretch. “Report to him if you must, but I am a man grown and – and his fucking heir.”

“And I choose to write, not sleep, because these are the words that will make O’Neill more than the name of rebels and exiles.” The old, familiar fire burned in his stomach, making it roil, and his nerves fell alight. “Please. Why have you become like this?" That the accusation was dramatic and a bit absurd did not quite occur to him. "Fetch the wine, f-for…”

“I…I must write. The muse speaks, and I do not haveto argue with a bloody valet.” James sat down again, his dominant hand shaking, feeling the anger turning to focus, the bile in his throat being bitten put into scorn for his adopted rival Pembroke. Meanwhile, Fergal bowed out silently, familiar with the dramatics but quite unused to the boy he raised pulling rank.

He was on fire, forging the steel of a new career. He was illuminated, as the holy poets of old Ireland once were, the muse calling to him in a thousand directions. And the young Irishman would not cower before a servant when he worked for the His Majesty's Lord-fucking-Steward, when the infamous Merry Gang was discovering his work.

The quill touched paper again. Struth, this vicious Cat Honor's name depraved, For Bellavista saw Foes in Cohorts, War in Peace, and Home in Mania's Court.  But our Hero he is: t'is his absence we mourn…


*The Cat with the Boots, or what we would know as Puss in Boots. By our time period, it was popular in Italy, but not yet translated into French or English.

**Scottish churls

***Stop talking!

Edited by James O`Neill
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