photography, writing, fine art... stuff ... other stuff ...

The story of Fraoch (pronounced Frooch ... with a soft 'ch' like 'loch') comes from the Scottish Gaelic tradition, though it looks back to the same heroic age as the Irish cycles of Oisin, Cuchullain, and so on. As with the Irish stories, Queen Maev is the villain.

I've tried to keep the language simple ... the opportunities are plentiful to take the story in new directions by using deliberately anachronistic language, as Christopher Logue does with his Iliad rendering. Likewise, there is plenty of scope for innuendo, but that lies close enough to the surface to need no emphasis; better to leave it as it is, I think, and let the sexuality simply be; although that is, of course, impossible.

The knotwork mage is adapted from a design by Reed Mihaloew.

The Death of Fraoch

This is Cluain Fraoch, I can't not cry,
my life's love in his castle of stone;
grief strips us of all pretence,
his proud man like a hurt girl.

This is the cairn, just catching the dawn,
where what was left from the crows was laid
of Fraoch, son of Idad, the golden one.
It's him that gave the cairn its name.

East in Cruachan a woman weeps
as well she might, who weeps for Fraoch
dead before their wedding day,
whose sword and fire were well-proved.

This woman who visits Fraoch's field;
it's Finnavir, with her fine blonde curls,
Maev's own daughter, that's the one,
her mother with armies to command.

Finnavir, Allil's fair-haired girl
that many wanted, and was offered to some;
the only man she wanted was Fraoch.
At last the pair can lie side by side.

Maev it was that courted Fraoch,
Fraoch who had no equal in battle,
all she wanted was him in her bed.
His only mistake was not to have her;

his `honour' only made Maev crazy.
That was why she wanted him dead,
I'm telling you; and here's the how
and why she destroyed that gracious man.

A rowan grew beside Loch Maev
in the open, on the southern shore,
and every season, every month
a crop of ripe fruit on the tree.

The berries weren't like your common rowan,
they were sugar-sweet. One taste
and for the next nine days
you'd look for neither food nor drink.

They said the fruit was so good
that eating it would add a year
to your life's span, that it would heal
any sickness or the worst wound.

A proper tree of healing, then,
but there was poison at its root;
a venomous serpent, set to strike,
guarded the rowan tree's good fruit.

So Maev, brave Eochaidh's little girl,
fell ill, she said, some woman's thing.
She sent for Fraoch, who courteously
replied, and asked how he might help.

She said the thing she needed was
a bunch of fruit from the rowan tree,
but Fraoch must swim the cold loch
and bring the fruit to her himself.

The son of Idad laughed at that,
`I never gathered fruit before'.
He grinned, `but if it's what she wants,
I'll soon pick Maev's sweet wee berries.'

So Fraoch laid down his keen blade
and swam across the peat-dark loch.
He found the serpent fast asleep,
its head laid up against the tree.

Fraoch, the warrior, picked the fruit
without the serpent waking up.
He gathered armfulls of the stuff
and brought it back to Maev's room.

`Well done', said Maev, and she made sure
he saw her shape beneath the sheets,
`But it's no use unless you bring
the whole tree, torn up by the roots.'

Fraoch knew what was going on,
his honour and his life at stake.
He looked at her and made his choice.
He turned and went back to the lake.

This time he gripped the rowan tree
high up its trunk, and hauled on it
until he ripped it from the shore
and woke the serpent from its sleep.

As he swam back, the serpent struck;
its jaw closed on his arm, they fought.
Fraoch got a grip on the creature's throat,
but, ach, he'd laid his sword aside.

Finnavir, with her fine blonde curls,
threw Fraoch a golden-hilted knife
but the serpent's jaw held Fraoch's left arm
and, as the beast rolled, it tore the limb off.

When they reached the near shore
it was still at him, and the fight close,
Fraoch son of Idad and the serpent,
the stones were running with their blood.

Fraoch fought as if two-handed
till he cut off the creature's head,
but Finnavir, when she saw his wounds,
fainted and fell at the lakeside.

When she finally came round
Fraoch lay dead. She cradled him;
`Though crows pick your bones', she said,
`that last feat had greatness on it.'

For the death that Fraoch met there
the loch has got the name, Loch Maev.
So it's been known since then and so
will it be known, while I still live.

We brought him here to Cluain Fraoch
and laid the man in his castle of stone.
We gave this green hill Fraoch's name
who had no son to carry it on.

Cairn of the Hand, Carn Laimh,
it's called to honour Fraoch
that never turned from any fight,
who held his ground at any threat.

Lovely his mouth, the welcome it gave.
Lovely his mouth that women kissed.
His men would follow him anywhere
just for the smile on Fraoch's face.

His cheeks were redder than the rose,
his hair was dark, was raven-black.
Soft as the foam of a mountain stream
and whiter than snow was Fraoch's skin.

His hair, like curls of planed blackwood,
the blue of his eyes like deep shadows in snow,
lips the crimson of late rowan fruit,
teeth as white as meadowsweet.

His spear was like a ship's mast,
his voice rang cleaner than the harp;
his body cutting through the water,
there was no finer man than Fraoch.

His shield was broader than a door,
and I was safe in its shelter,
his sword blade an arm's length
and broader than a ship's timber.

He should have died in high battle,
not torn by some wild creature;
Fraoch, that open-hearted man,
has left me nothing but my grief.

This is Cluain Fraoch, I can't not cry,
my life's love in his castle of stone;
grief strips us of all pretence,
his proud man like a hurt girl.